Texans, it's that time in the Texas Legislature's biennial 140-day regular session when we're reminded that Texas has a bicameral legislative system.

Or, this is when every two years it's underlined there are two legislative bodies, not just one.

Never mind that Congress, and every other state legislative body except Nebraska, also has two houses -- plus an independently elected chief executive. We re-learn that a two-headed lawmaking body is more than just a big city council.

For a bill to change Texas law, it must pass both the House and Senate, in the same words, and then be approved – or at least, not vetoed – by the governor.

It gets interesting as the 20-week session is shifting into high gear in its final six weeks, as the May 29 finish line nears. Bills are zinging around like bumblebees. And tempers grow shorter along with the number of days remaining to work out differences between the House and Senate.

The biggest item is the appropriations bill – the only bill the legislature is actually required to pass. Lawmakers' legislative priorities often require money. Where to get it, and where to spend it, can precipitate some huge fights.

This session, with less anticipated revenue per-capita for the two-year budget than in the 2015 session, there seems more of a divide between the Senate and House. With leaner comes meaner.

When the House and Senate have disagreements on legislation – and that happens a lot – their leaders usually appoint conference committees of five members from each body to try to settle them.

If the conferees are able to hammer out a deal on a piece of legislation, it still has to be approved by the members of each house.

House members sent a strong message recently to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Republican who presides over the Texas Senate.

Patrick has made it one of his legislative priorities to spend state money for students in private, parochial, and charter schools. He and other backers call it a "private school choice" bill.

  Advocates for public schools, who consider it an ill-advised misuse of tax money meant for public schools, call it a "voucher" bill.

Though the bill has passed the Senate, during the debate on the House appropriations bill, Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown, offered an amendment to prohibit state money from being spent on private school tuition. It passed, 103-44. Hello, Dan Patrick.

Of course, the House and Senate spending bills have a considerable number of differences, in numbers and in approach, that still must be hammered out. So the choice/voucher versus public schools battle is far from over.

Another area of House-Senate disagreement is over college tuition. The Senate has passed a bill to re-regulate tuition, freeze it for two years, and limit the amount that universities can raise it per year to no more than one percent above the rate of inflation.

Most college students and their parents would welcome lower tuition costs. But many House members – and some senators – say the reason colleges raise tuition rates is because legislators are shirking their responsibility for having the state adequately fund the colleges.

So those are just a few of the battles to watch for over these next few weeks.

 

Eyes On The Road. . . . It looks like Texas may join 46 other states in banning texting while driving. Although several dozen Texas cities already do so, a bill is on the verge of finally making it statewide.

The anti-texting measure, sponsored by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, since 2009, and joined in 2011 by Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, actually passed the House and Senate back in 2011.

But then-Gov. Rick Perry vetoed it, terming it  "a government effort to micromanage" adult behavior. Efforts in 2013 and 2015 fell short.

This year, however, Craddick's bill – HB 62 -- has already passed the House, 114-32, on March 16.

In the Senate, Zaffirini's version – SB 31 -- cleared the State Affairs committee, 6-3. But for awhile, it had looked like the bill wouldn't get enough support to bring it up – which doomed it two years ago. It currently takes 19 of the 31 senators to bring a bill to the floor.

But two senators who voted against it in 2015 – Republicans Donna Campbell of New Braunfels and Don Huffines of Dallas – days ago said they'll now back it.

A recent tragedy dramatically underlined the argument for the prohibition.

Thirteen members of the First Baptist Church of New Braunfels were killed March 29, when their bus was hit head-on near Uvalde by a pickup.

Its 20-year-old driver told witnesses he had been texting right before the crash.