Posted: Jan 8, 2013 1:30 PM by Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Texas legislators opened their 140-day session Tuesday poised to debate how to pay for public schools, decide whether to drug test unemployment recipients and possibly confront a mounting water crisis under the strain of a rapidly growing population.
The Texas House elected San Antonio Republican Joe Straus as Speaker by acclimation after the only challenger, David Simpson of Longview, dropped out of the race. The election took place in the opening hours of the 83rd Legislature on Tuesday.
The speakership is one of the most politically powerful in Texas.
Hot-button issues over abortion access and gun laws also were expected to generate widespread attention during the 83rd legislative session, which featured a unique political backdrop due to the high number of newcomers.
With 43 freshmen in the 150-member House - the most in four decades - it will be one of the most inexperienced Legislatures in recent history. Still, Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst are out to reassert their power following failed runs for bigger offices last year.
As they have for a decade, Republicans run the show in Austin with commanding majorities in the House and Senate. Democrats were able to snag the handful of seats needed in November to break up the GOP supermajority in the House, but the pink hues of the state Capitol remain dominated by the underlying red-state nature of the politics inside the building.
Republicans still rule Texas, and the leadership intends to push the state even further to the right. Dewhurst has said he wants Texas to be "the most fiscally and socially conservative state in the country."
Associated Press writers Will Weissert and Chris Tomlinson contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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