The Texas legislature is a part-time, citizen legislature. It meets only once every two years for 140 days. Members of the Texas House are elected for two-year terms and are paid $7,200 per year.

It is interesting to contrast the Texas legislature with a professional legislature, such as New York’s. The New York legislature is considered professional because legislators are committed to being full-time representatives; they meet year-round, serve year-round and members are paid $79,500 per year.

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Former Governor Rick Perry campaigned for president on adapting the Texas model to the U.S. Congress. Perry argued that the Founders intended a “citizen” Congress similar to the one in Texas, with members serving for only a few terms and retaining their regular employment in the private sector. As far back as 2007, Perry remarked, “When you have a full-time legislature, they just feel pretty inclined to be doing something. So they are going to dream up new laws, new regulations and new statutes—and generally all of those cost money.” This vision also fits with the principle of limited government—the principle that Congress or the legislature really should have a small role and the more they are in session, the more temptations they have to engage in corrupt practices and to pass laws restricting liberties.

Opponents argue that the Texas model is not one that should be adopted for the U.S. Congress or other legislatures. Legislators are not any less prone to corruption under the Texas model. Under either model, lobbyists attempt to influence policy makers, and the fact that legislators have private-sector jobs does not minimize this possibility. Meeting once every two years reduces the time to deliberate and make sensible policies. In Texas, critics argue that the legislative session is rushed, and legislators rely too heavily on staff who work year-round and are more familiar with the ins and outs of policy making. Former Houston-area Congressman Chris Bell also warns that state legislators are more susceptible to corruption because “unless they’re retired or independently wealthy, [legislators are] in a tough spot. There aren’t a whole lot of jobs that lend themselves to a legislator’s schedule, so those in office become prime targets [for lobbyists].” The rush of completing the legislation necessary to govern the state often leaves important issues unresolved, leading to the need for more special sessions. Members who are not independently wealthy are unable to legislate effectively because they cannot just leave their jobs for 140 days at a time every two years. All of these factors result in a less productive legislature.

Each person’s vision of the proper role of government will likely affect their feelings on this issue. Liberals, who prefer an active government, would probably prefer a full-time legislature that actively addresses social problems. Conservatives, who are not supporters of government activity in the economy, are more likely to support a minimal role for legislators so that citizens are free to make their own choices without governmental interference.

What are your thoughts? Why should citizens care about this issue? Do you think the political process and policy outcomes might be influenced by the pay and frequency of sessions of the legislature?

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