Texas policy beholden to short sessions

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Texas state representative Todd Hunter speaks Tuesday afternoon in the Dean's Conference Room of the Gebauer Building. He discussed his career in politics and problems associated with redistricting and budgets.

Photo Credit: Kiersten Holms | Daily Texan Staff

Time constraints in Texas’ 140-day legislative session greatly affect what passes through every lawmaking session, including bills aimed at effectively redistricting and improving higher education, State Representative Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi) said.

Rep. Hunter spoke about his experiences as a state representative during his term as a Democrat that lasted from 1989 until 1997 and his present service as a Republican since 2009.

“In 2011, the big problem was most of the time ran out because of redistricting and the budget,” Hunter said. “The Legislature meets 140 days every two years unless there’s a special session. What happens is that you only meet an approximate 98 or 100 days where most of the activity happens. On both sides of it the rules kick in where you’re not necessarily allowed to deal with issues.”

Hunter said a lot of times it’s easy to slow a bill’s progression or not pass it at all because of the limited time legislators have to discuss, modify and ratify legislation.

Hunter said he’s been through multiple redistricting sessions during his two terms as representative and knows that redistributing the population fairly after uneven statewide growth patterns takes up a lot of time that would normally be spent on issues such as education.

“Some areas of the state have not grown,” Hunter said. “Some areas have really blossomed in population.

Unfortunately, population controls [how redistricting is laid out]. You may love your area, but if you’ve lost a lot of folks, those public official numbers go with the population. “

Middle Eastern studies and sociology freshman Jules Munoz Villareal said he had issues with the way redistricting occurs in Texas.

“I personally believe that there is some favoring of Republican politics in Texas, and that results in some districts leaning more Republican,” Villareal said. “Especially here in Austin because the city is divided by three and possibly another, so four districts. I think it needs to be explained.”

Hunter said he believes politicians have a duty to explain to the public the complexities of policies regarding issues such as education.

“I do think we as legislators have a responsibility to educate the public,” Hunter said. “One of the things we’ve got to remember is that we have the ability to run for office, but we’ve also got a responsibility to let people know what’s going on. I think sometimes we do that and sometimes we don’t.”

Hunter said in education policymakers need to make clear that the debate isn’t only over tuition increases and focus on practical matters tailored to Texas’ needs.

“For instance, I live in the hurricane zone,” Hunter said. “I still don’t understand why we let Colorado people tell us how many hurricanes we’re going to have each year. Maybe we should start predicting for ski resorts each year.”

James Henson, lecturer and director of the Texas Politics Project that sponsored Hunter’s talk said he enjoyed hearing Hunter’s views on education.

“I think, in terms of higher education stuff, it’s nice to hear somebody who is so focused on what you can do to move forward in higher education,” Henson said.