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Texas Senate: Here’s Who’s In Charge of Texas Committees in 2023

Committee chairs have an outsized influence in determining what legislation will advance through the session, possibly becoming law in Texas.

Texas Senate: Here’s who will chair committees in the 88th legislative session

JAN 27, 2023 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT: JAN 28, 2023

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has announced who will head up the Senate committees for the 88th Legislature.

Committee chairs have an outsized influence in determining what legislation will advance through the session, possibly becoming law, and what bills will never advance to a vote.

Of the 15 standing committees, many are set to be led by the same lawmakers — all Republicans except for one Democrat — as during the last session. However, a number of new senators have quickly moved up the ranks to serve as second in command on several committees.

Here’s a look some key committee appointments and the landscape around the issues these groups will take up this session.

Texas budget, finance






Last week, Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, released a budget bill presenting the Senate’s initial proposal of how to spend $288.7 billion over the next two years.

As part of Monday’s committee announcements, Huffman was officially named chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, which oversees and shepherds legislation related to how the state levies taxes and how the resulting revenue will be spent.

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, will serve as vice chair.

In a news release last week applauding Huffman’s Senate Bill 1, the proposed budget bill that includes $15 billion in property tax relief, Patrick said Huffman has done “an outstanding job” with the budget and that the Legislature’s final product will prioritize conservative principles.

“We must prioritize spending that will keep Texas the nation’s economic powerhouse. It is also imperative that we save a sizable portion of the money for the future,” Patrick said. “Our conservative policy is to never spend all the money because you never know what challenges or opportunities lie ahead.”

Huffman and Hinojosa both served in their respective committee positions in the last legislative session.

Huffman will also chair the Senate special redistricting committee, which is scheduled to begin meeting Wednesday to look into whether or not it will redraw the state’s senatorial districts as it prepares to consider the decennial redistricting process.

Border security, public safety and a lone Democrat

House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, has drawn the ire of conservative Republicans who are staunch in their opposition to handing over any committee chairmanships to the minority party, a long-standing tradition in the House. In 2021, during his first session as speaker, Phelan appointed 14 Democrats to chair a total of 35 standing House committees, and he has indicated he’ll grant Democrats some chairmanships in this session.






In the Senate, however, there has been no commotion around the Committee on Criminal Justice, which again will be chaired by the “Dean of the Senate,” Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston.

Whitmire, who has served in the Senate since 1983, is well known for leading the Criminal Justice Committee despite the chamber being a consistent Republican stronghold in recent decades.

Prior to the start of this session, Patrick, the Senate’s chief, acknowledged that Whitmire would again hold court over the committee he has chaired since 1993.

But with Whitmire running in an election for Houston mayor this fall, the prospect of another Democrat being granted a chairmanship in the Senate seems unlikely.

“And when John (Whitmire) leaves there will be zero, I will be grooming a new person,” Patrick said in December.

With the session underway, the lieutenant governor has identified some criminal justice priorities, including instituting a mandatory minimum 10-year sentence for those who commit a crime with a gun, reining in and recalling “rogue” district attorneys and judges, and creating a rural law enforcement fund.

Additionally, Gov. Greg Abbott sent a letter to Patrick and Phelan at the beginning of the year requesting the Legislature consider creating penalties for parolees who “cut off their ankle monitors.”

Unlike the last session, this one will include a standing Senate Committee on Border Security.

The Senate’s preliminary budget proposes $4.6 billion for border security, largely for three departments: $2.3 billion for the Texas Military Department, $1.2 billion for the Department of Public Safety, and $1 billion for the governor’s office. Texas has spent just under $4.4 billion on Abbott’s border security program known as Operation Lone Star since March 2021.






The Border Security Committee will be led by Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, with newly elected Sen. Pete Flores, R-Pleasanton, who served in the Senate during the 86th Legislature, as vice chair.

Business, education and the grid

Last week, the Public Utility Commission unanimously approved a plan to overhaul the state’s electric grid through encouraging further private investment in new power plants and with “performance credits” based on electricity generation during times of greatest strain on the power grid.






However, opponents of the proposal, including Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, who on Monday was reappointed as chair of the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce, called the idea “costly and complex.”

Still, the plan — called the “performance credit mechanism” — has Abbott’s support.

Schwertner, who authored Senate Bill 3 last session to make changes to the grid in response to the deadly February 2021 winter storm, says the unanimous approval by the Public Utility Commission — which oversees the electrical grid’s manager, Electric Reliability Council of Texas — ignores “clear direction” from the Legislature.

“In the weeks ahead, the Texas Senate will hold hearings and consider whatever legislation is necessary to correct this error and fulfill our obligation to the people of Texas,” Schwertner tweeted after the PUC meeting.

Freshman Sen. Phil King, R-Weatherford, will join Schwertner on the committee as vice chairman.

With allocations of $36.1 billion earmarked for public education and $27.1 billion for higher education, spending on schools and students will be a huge priority for lawmakers this session.






In the Senate, education bills will again go through Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, who will chair both the Committee on Education and Committee on Higher Education. Creighton was chair of both committees in the last session and also led the Higher Education Committee during the 86th legislative session.

During last week’s inauguration ceremonies for the governor and lieutenant governor, Creighton introduced Patrick to the crowd at the Capitol and alluded to the education agenda.

“Through his leadership, we will accomplish more for Texas educators and our 6 million students in Texas schools than ever before” Creighton said of Patrick. “We’re gearing up to advance one of the most conservative sessions in Texas history.”

Some of those early education priorities include a “school voucher program,” school safety funding and a cost-of-living adjustment for retired teachers.

Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, will join Creighton as vice chair of the Education Committee. King will serve as vice chair of higher education.

Health, mental health and rural Texas

A priority for Patrick heading into the legislative session was to increase mental health care access across the state, with an emphasis on rural Texas.

As a result, the Senate’s initial budget dedicates $9 billion to bolster mental health resources; build state hospitals and additional inpatient capacity; and increase pay and staffing in hospitals.






To achieve those goals, legislation will have to pass through the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services. This session, as in the previous two sessions, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, will serve as chair with Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, continuing as vice chair.

The committee’s leadership is closely focusing on Texas’ Medicaid “waiver” system, a set of six programs aimed at providing community-based services for people with disabilities.

A yearlong American-Statesman investigation found the program to be catastrophically underfunded and unregulated to the point of serious danger.

“It’s time to own up and get it right,” Perry said of taking action on the program.

Perry also will chair the Committee on Water, Agriculture and Rural Affairs with Sen. Kelly Hancock, D-Dallas, serving as vice chair. Hancock will lead the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, with freshman Republican Sen. Tan Parker of Flower Mound as vice chair.







Additionally, the Senate Committee on State Affairs will play a role in deciding issues across the spectrum this session and will be chaired by Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, with Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, serving as vice chair.

Who’s in charge?

Here is a list of the 88th Session Standing Committee chairs and vice chairs. For a complete list of all assignments visit the lieutenant governor’s announcement.

  • Administration: Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, chair; Sen. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, vice chair
  • Border Security: Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, chair; Sen. Pete Flores, R-Pleasanton, vice chair
  • Business & Commerce: Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, chair; Sen. Phil King, R-Weatherford, vice chair
  • Criminal Justice: Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chair; Sen. Pete Flores, R-Pleasanton, vice chair
  • Education: Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, chair; Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, vice chair
  • Finance: Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, chair; Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, vice chair
  • Health & Human Services: Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, chair; Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, vice chair
  • Higher Education: Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, chair; Sen. Mayes Middleton, R-Galveston, vice chair
  • Jurisprudence: Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, chair; Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas, vice chair
  • Local Government: Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, chair; Sen. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, vice chair
  • Natural Resources & Economic Development: Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, chair; Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, vice chair
  • Nominations: Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, chair; Sen. Kevin Sparks, R-Midland, vice chair
  • State Affairs: Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, chair; Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, vice chair
  • Transportation: Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, chair, Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, vice chair
  • Veteran Affairs: Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, chair; Sen. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, vice chair
  • Water, Agriculture & Rural Affairs: Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, chair; Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, vice chair

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Texas Legislature: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick picks Senate committee chairs

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Texas Senate: Here’s Who’s In Charge of Texas Committees in 2023
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