LBJ school hosts legislative session featuring house representatives

Anna Daugherty

The LBJ School of Public Affairs hosted a wrap-up panel discussion Wednesday about the Texas Legislature’s 83rd regular session and three special sessions.

Sherri Greenberg, director of the school’s Center for Politics and Governance and former state representative, moderated the panel, featuring state Reps. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, and Gene Wu, D-Houston, along with three other panelists.

Steven Polunsky, former director of the Texas Senate Committee on Business and Commerce, started the panel discussion with humor.

“The 83rd legislative session was the Lone Ranger of sessions,” Polunsky said. “It was way too long, too boring and forgettable — except for that Tonto part.”

Polunsky said there was a contest for the silliest bills of the session.

“The nominations: ‘on relating to the protection of stray bison’ or designating Feb. 16 as Texas Homemade Pie Day,” he said. “That one passed.”

Panelists also discussed more serious issues addressed during the legislative session, such as abortion, public education financing and the budget. Villarreal said the House achieved bipartisan success through collaboration on key legislation, including financing for water projects.

“We could write legislation, file it, debate it, push it through and get it passed. All within five months,” Villarreal said. “It’s amazing, especially compared to the time things take in D.C.”

Wu, a first-year representative, said he was surprised by how the session went. 

“We stopped pushing off huge items like the water bill that’s been pushed back for 20 years,” he said. “We focused on things both parties could agree on and pushed back ‘red meat’ topics.”

Villarreal said he regrets that certain topics were delayed and not fully addressed.

“Did [Republicans] purposefully spend the regular session on bills that needed cooperation so that they could then drive the ‘red meat’ bills right through a special session?” Villarreal asked.

Erica Grieder, senior editor at Texas Monthly, said too many big topics fell by the wayside.

“The entire first special session was embarrassing and bad for everyone involved,” Grieder said. “They wanted to pass certain bills before the primaries came up in 2014.”

Wu, an LBJ graduate, also spoke about the importance of the school as well as LBJ students who intern or work as Capitol staff during legislative sessions.

“We [the representatives] can’t know everything about all the topics,” he said. “Staff are critical to making decisions.” 

Greenberg said she hopes more students — both undergraduate and graduate — become part of the legislative process.

“Everyone can get involved,” she said.