Comparison between Florida’s Legislative Framework and Texas Legislative Framework

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Senior (College 4th year) ・Political Science ・MLA ・12 Sources

Introduction

In the United States of America, every state has a specific government organized in compliance with its constitution. The constitution, however, must be based on the fundamental rules of the federal government laid out in the constitution of the United States. Section 1 of Article IV of the Constitution specifies that every state shall have an organized government (Marks and Cooper 20). How a state government is structured depends on the laws laid down in the constitution of the state. In general, each state government imitates the form of the federal government, consisting of three branches: the senate, the judiciary, and the executive branch (Marks and Cooper 44). Furthermore, the presidential system of the federal government is replicated by the governor’s role as the head of state and head of state government. Nonetheless, each state is sovereign in terms of decision making, policy implementation, and governance. Each state is also organized in a manner that is uniquely specific and appropriate to the people of that state (Marks and Cooper 85). Therefore, the governments of various states have many similarities as well as differences. This essay explores the similarities and differences that exist in the legislative frameworks of the two states of Florida and Texas, based on various elements of elections, lawmaker responsibilities and composition, scandals, successes and failures, budgeting etc.

In terms of composition, the Florida’s legislature is made up of the Florida House of Representatives with 120 members, and the Florida Senate which is composed of 40 members; while the Texas legislature has the Texas House of Representatives with 150 members and the Texas senate with 31 members (State of Texas, n.d.). In this regard, the Texas lawmakers are more than the Florida’s lawmakers by 21 members. Both of the legislative frameworks are require each term of legislative positions to last for two terms.

The House of Representatives

Elections

The election laws of Florida requires that 120 members of the House of Representatives should be elected after every two even-numbered years. Each elected member represents a district. For one to qualify to be a member of the House in Florida, he or she must be aged above 21 years, a resident of Florida for at least the previous two years before election, and a resident of the district where he wants to represent. On the other hand, Texas carries out elections every two even-numbered years, and one qualifies to run for the election to the house as long as he or she has attained the age of 21, was resident of the state for two years prior to the election year, and a resident of the district he or she represents for at least 1 year before the election day. In this regard, the two states have a similar criteria for one to qualify as a candidate for the House of Representative in any district.

One of the differences between the two legislative bodies in terms of elections is that the Florida’s law requires a term limit of four terms for its legislators, but the Texas senate has no term limit. The longest serving member of the Texas House of Representatives is Tom Craddick who served since 1968 (State of Texas, n.d.). Therefore, anyone can defend his or her legislative seat in Texas as many times as possible; but a legislature can retain their seat in Florida for only a maximum of four terms.

Setting term limits has the advantage of attracting sincere leaders who want to serve others for noble courses rather than taking up legislative positions as a form of employment to serve their selfish interests. Furthermore, changing leaders regularly brings in new ideas and energy to promote changes that meet new challenges. In this regard, Florida legislature is more likely to attract new leaders with energy and the motivation to serve the interests of their electorates than their Texas counterparts. However, some critics argue that term limits may prevent legislators from gaining enough experience and skills to perform their jobs better. When good leaders take more time in office, they gain more experience and skills on the job; hence improving the effectiveness and efficiency of their work performance.

Structure and Composition

The structure of the House of Representatives of Florida is also characterized by majority republicans and minority democrats, high salaries and constitutional authority. In the Texas House of Representatives, the republicans are also more than democrats (State of Texas, n.d.). The ratio of republicans to democrats in the Florida House of Representatives is almost the same as that of Texas, but it has a higher percentage of republicans at 64% compared to Texas’ percentage at 63% in the current terms.

The salaries of members in the Texas House are significantly lower than those of their Floridian counterparts. Florida’s House of Representatives pays its elected members $29,697 per year and per diem; whereas the Texas House of Representatives pays its members $7,200 per year, and per diem (State of Texas, n.d.). The gap between salaries of the two states is significantly large, caused by various factors including costs of living, legislative decisions, and term limits of members.

The authority of the Texas House of Representatives is stated in Article III of the Texas constitution; while the authority of the Florida House of Representatives is based on article III of the Florida Constitution. The Florida constitution gives the House of Representatives the power to pass laws, develop annual budgets, carry out investigations, and impeach state officials when they fail to perform their duties as required by law (State of Florida, 1968). Article III of Texas House of Representatives also vests the power of passing laws, setting budgets and overseeing the functions of the state officials (State of Florida, 1968). Therefore, the constitutional authorities of the Houses of Representatives of both Florida and Texas reflect the constitutional powers of the federal House of Representatives.

Under Article III of the Florida Constitution, the State of Florida House of Representatives is mandated to hold regular sessions beginning the first Tuesday after the first Monday of every year (State of Florida, 1968). This requirement is similar to that of Texas Constitution. Each regular session should last for a period not longer than sixty days unless three-fifths of all members of the House pass a resolution to extend it. Section 3 of the article on legislature in the Florida Constitution also gives the governor of the state the authority to call for special sessions (State of Florida, 1968). The law also allows for other special sessions that may be acceptable under the law. On the other hand, the sessions of Texas House of Representatives are provided under Article III of the state’s constitution. The law suggests that the legislature should be convened after every two years (State of Texas, 2015). Special sittings can also be established by law or convened by the Governor of the State of Texas.

Leadership and Committees

The House of Representatives in both Florida and Texas, like the federal government’s House of Representatives, are headed by the Speaker of the House elected by the representatives, whose role is to preside over the proceedings of the House. The speakers in both states maintain order in the house, and give procedures, assigning roles and responsibilities to committees and recognizing contributions of members of the House during debates (Simons 43). The speaker also approves bills, sets order or activities of the house, and sending bills to the committees for review. The speaker of both Florida and Texas Houses is assisted by the Speaker Pro Tempore, who chairs the House of Representatives meetings and performs other functions of the speaker in his absence.

However, the Texas House of Representative differs from the Florida House of Representatives in that does not have minority and majority leaders like in Florida. The Florida House has a Republic majority leader (currently Ray Rodrigues), and a Democrat minority leader (Janet Cruz). Rather than minority and majority leaders, the Texas House unofficial leaders including a Democratic caucus chairman, and a Democratic House Leader. These two leaders are elected by members of their respective caucuses.

Both Texas and Florida Houses also have a position of the Chief clerk who performs various clerical and support services. He or she acts as the custodian of all papers and files of the House; provides information to members of the House; distributes legislative documents to various committees; and keeps records of all legislative signatures in the House. The clerks also maintain electronic records and providing notices of changes in documentation contents to members of the House.

The House of Representatives in both Texas and Florida have various Committees to review bills and issues for debate in the Houses, and monitor the activities of various agencies and program officials. Before rules are approved into law, they must be scrutinized in the committee stage before and after debates in the House of Representatives (Marks and Cooper 102). The House of Representatives of Texas has 38 standing committees while the Florida House is structured in form of 10 joint committees and three historical committees. The Florida committees are broader than Texas committees, each joint committee covering several issues; but the Texas committees focus on specific sectors such as agriculture, public education, human services, natural resources, insurance, pensions, rules and resolutions, state affairs, etc.

Senate

Structures and Composition

The Florida’s senate is similar with that of Texas in terms of term length, but they differ in regards to the term limit. The terms of the Senates of Florida and Texas last for 4 years; but the Florida’s senators are restricted to only a maximum of two terms or eight consecutive years in office, and Texas senators may serve for unlimited number of terms. The Florida Senate has 40 seats while the Texas senate has 31 seats. Like in the House of Representatives, the Florida and Texas senates have more Republican representation than Democratic representation; however, the Texas senate has a higher percentage of Republicans (64.5%) than the Florida senate (60%). The Florida Senate also pays larger amounts of salaries than the Texas senate, $29,697 per year and $7,200 per year respectively.

Elections

Election rules of the Florida senate is provided under the Florida constitution, and they require the senators to be elected to represent larger districts than the House of Representatives (State of Florida, 1968). The elections are carried out after every four years. Odd-numbered districts carry out their elections in the same years that the federal elections are carried out, but the even-numbered states carry out their elections in the midterm. For one to become a state senator in Florida, he has to be aged at least 21 years, and a resident in the district they wish to represent for at least two years before the day of election.

On the other hand, the Texas Constitution under Article III suggests that elections are carried out in even-numbered years, on the first Tuesday in November (State of Texas, 2015). In years ending with 2, the elections in Texas, like in Florida, are carried out for all seats; and half of the senators serve two-year terms in these elections. In all other elections, half of the senate go through the ballot and serve four-year terms.

Leadership

The Florida senate is chaired by the President of the Senate while the Texas senate is chaired by the Lieutenant Governor of Texas who is the second-most powerful officer in the state government. In this regard, the Texas senate president has more powers than Florida senate president. The Lieutenant governor of Texas exercises his or her functions of presidency in the senate regularly without delegating them to majority or minority leaders or the president pro tempore (Simons 65). On the other hand, the Florida senate has a majority and minority leader who can be assigned roles and duties by the lieutenant governor. The Texas senate does not have majority or minority leaders in both the senate and the House of Representatives.

In article III of the Texas Constitution, the lieutenant governor performs the functions of appointing chairpersons and members of standing committees, assigns legislations to various committees, and sets procedures for parliamentary proceedings (State of Texas, 2015). He is also an ex-officio member to various boards and committees including the Legislative Budget Board and the Legislative Audit Committee. Texas lieutenant governor is elected in state elections alongside the governor. In case of death or leave of office, the senate will elect one of its members as the Senate President, subsequently becoming the lieutenant governor. When the governor dies or leaves office, the lieutenant governor takes over office until the next elections. In this regard, the Lieutenant Governor of Texas is more powerful with more legislative responsibilities than the Lieutenant Governor of Florida.

The President of the Florida Senate performs the same functions as the Texas senate president – assigning bills to committees, appointing chairs and members of the committees, and sets procedures and order of bills. Unlike the Texas senate where the lieutenant governor is the president of the senate, the Florida senate has a different president of the house who carries out all legislative functions of the senate. In Texas, the lieutenant governor who is the president of the senate is elected by the electorates, but in Florida the president of the senate is elected by members of the senate. Another difference between the two leaders is that the President of the Texas senate goes for a four-year term but the leader of the Florida Senate goes for a term of only two years.

Budget

The role of the House of Representatives in state budget in both Texas and Florida Houses is to pass balanced budgets that demonstrates how the money is spent in various functions of the government, including allocating funds to critical areas such as education and healthcare. The state of Texas operates in a biennial budget cycle in which the budget is passed after every two years; while the state of Florida operates on an annual budget cycle, covering each single year (Snell 2011).

The budget cycle of Florida begins in July when the governor instructs state agencies on the budgets. Agencies subsequently submit their budget needs to the governor in October. Budget hearings with the state agencies are held every September and January. The governor then proposes his or her budget and send it to the state legislatures. Both legislative houses pass a balanced budget in April or May, to cover the fiscal year beginning July of the same year. In this regard, a budget is planned, proposed and passed for a period of one year to cover the following year’s spending of the state. Florida’s budget includes three pools of funds – the Major special Revenue Fund, the General Fund, and the Special Revenue Fund. Florida is one of the few states that use cost-benefit analysis to determine the priority projects that give the state good returns on investment.

The Biennial budget cycle of the State of Texas begins in March with the governor’s budget instructions which are sent to the various agencies of the state. These agencies develop their budget requests and send them to the governor before September. The governor then creates a proposed budget for the legislature’s consideration on the 30th day of every session. The legislature approves a balanced budget and passes it in May with a simple majority. Unlike the State of Florida whose fiscal year begins in July, the fiscal year of Texas begins in the month of September.

Ethics

Both Texas and Florida legislatures have implemented policies that comply with ethical responsibilities and transparency. In both states, legislators are not allowed to take up other paid public employments, and require the legislators to disclose their financial interests for the purpose of transparency. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group awarded Florida Grade A in terms of transparency in 2015; but in 2013 the Sunlight Foundation gave Florida Grade C and Texas Grade A in terms of transparency (Jewett 56). The Public Interest Research group also awarded an A grade to Texas in terms of transparency in 2014. This transparency grading was done based on the availability of data to the public access. The results show that both states have a high level of ethics and transparency in regards to issues to do with spending and public relations.

History

Historically, the partisan composition of Texas has changed significantly. Between 1992 and 2017, the Democratic Party had majority members in the Texas House of Representatives for only the first 11 years; but the Republicans controlled the house for the rest of the years up to 2016 (BallotPedia, 2017b). Between 1992 and 2013, the total number of House of Representative members in the Republic party was 483, while that of the Democratic Party was 577. Throughout the 22 years, the Texas government became increasingly partisan. In 1992, the Texas House of Representatives and the Senate had a partisan composition with majority Democrats; but between 1995 and 2003, the composition became divided, with Republican Party gaining more members (BallotPedia 2017a). From 2004 to date, the Republicans have dominated the senate and the house. Texas is one of the eight states of the U.S. that have demonstrated a significant change in partisan membership of the senate and the house, changing by over 40% towards one party (BallotPedia 2017a).

In Florida, there has not been a major shift in partisanship, neither has there been a divided government since 1992. The Republicans have dominated both the senate and the house since 1992. Democrats have only been majority for one year; whereas the Republicans have been the majority for the last 19 years. The senate alone has experienced 80% of Republican domination between 1992 and 2013 (BallotPedia, 2017b). Therefore, the Florida legislature has been historically partisan and leaned towards the Republicans. Both Florida and Texas have had a more Republican than Democratic history; but Florida is more Republican than Texas in terms of memberships in both the upper and the lower houses.

Scandals

Both Texas and Florida legislature have experienced several scandals. The Texas House of Representatives was reported to be involved in multiple voting in 2007. Each representative in the House used the automated voting machines to vote for absentee members regardless of their party affiliations, violating the rules of the legislature which bars members from voting for absent members (Hoppe 2011). No discipline measures have ever been taken against the members of the house. The speaker claimed that the actions to be taken in such cases were determined by the members. The controversies and scandals of corruption and controversial bills. One of the controversies is the House Bill 675 which was intended to give powers to the local police and teachers to report undocumented immigrants to the federal government. This bill was seen by civil rights people as being anti-immigrants.

Conclusion

Indeed, the Florida and Texas legislatures have several similarities and differences. They are similar in terms of partisanship; both of them have higher Republican representations. The elections of both legislatures are also similar because they are held after every two years, and they require candidates to be residents of the state for at least two years prior to the election; but the Texas State has more legislators than Florida. The Florida’s legislature also pays more salaries to its members than the Texas State. In terms of functions, both states’ legislatures have powers under articles III of their respective constitutions to pass laws, set budgets and conduct investigations and vetoes on the state officials. The leadership House of Representatives in both states have similar leaderships headed by a speaker of the House, but the senate leadership of Texas is different because it headed by a lieutenant governor who has a lot of powers compared to the President of the Florida Senate. The Florida legislature also has Joint Committees while the Texas Senate has standing committees. Another notable difference between the two legislatures is that there are majority and minority leaders in both houses of Florida; but the Texas legislature does not have such leadership. However, both states have a high level of ethics and transparency in terms of public spending, and have experienced a few scandals.

Works Cited

BallotPedia. Florida State Legislature. BallotPedia, 2017a. Accessed from https://ballotpedia.org/Florida_State_Legislature.

Cotterell, Bill. “Legislative session by the numbers.” Florida Today. Melbourne, Florida. pp. 5A. March 7, 2017.

BallotPedia. Texas House of Representatives. BallotPedia, 2017b. Accessed from https://ballotpedia.org/Texas_House_of_Representatives#cite_ref-33.

Hoppe, Christy. “Some Texas lawmakers cast votes for fellow members on bill Meant to Protect Elections.” Dallas Morning News, March 24, 2011

Jewett, Aubrey. “Evaluating Changes in Florida's Legislative Process: Innovative Rules and Conservative Norms.” Politics & Policy. 30.1 (2002): 40-68. Print.

Marks, Thomas C, and John F. Cooper. State Constitutional Law in a Nutshell. St. Paul, MN: Thomson/West, 2003. Print.

Simons, Spencer L. Texas Legal Research. , 2016. Print.

Snell, Ron. State Experiences with Annual and Biennial Budgeting. National Council of State Legislatures, 2011. Accessed from http://www.ncsl.org/research/fiscal-policy/state-experiences-with-annual-and-biennial-budgeti.aspx.

State of Texas. Texas House of Representatives, n.d. Accessed from http://www.house.state.tx.us/about-us/.

State of Florida. Constitution of the State of Florida, 1968. Accessed from http://www.flsenate.gov/Laws/Constitution#A3S12.

State of Texas. Texas House of Representatives, n.d. Accessed from http://www.house.state.tx.us/about-us/.

State of Texas. The Texas Constitution, Article 3: Legislature, 2015. Accessed from http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/CN/htm/CN.3.htm#3.1.

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