Governor, Lieutenant Governor, House, Senate…there’s a lot of different roles in our state legislature, and it’s not always obvious what their deal is. So let’s just walk through the quick and dirty description of the roles in state government so you know who to yell at — or praise — during the 2021 legislative session.
Three Branches of Government
Similar to the federal government, state government has three branches: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial. For the purposes of lege session we’re going to focus on Executive and Legislative — but trust we’ll get around to the Judicial in the future.
Executive Branch: This branch is made up of statewide seats like Governor, Lieutenant Governor (kind of like the Vice President of the state), Attorney General, Comptroller, Agricultural Commissioner, and Railroad Commissioner.
- Governor: Signs or vetos bills once they’ve been passed by the legislative branch. If the Gov signs it that means it becomes law, but if the Gov vetos it that means that they are cancelling it even though the legislature passed it. If the legislature can come up with enough votes they can override a veto, though.
- Lieutenant Governor: The main job of the Lieutenant Governor is to oversee the Senate (part of the Legislative branch — get there in a minute) and to appoint legislators to committees (also get there in a minute).
- Other Executive Branch Members: These folks oversee various state agencies. For instance the Comptroller collects taxes. The Railroad Commissioner oversees regulating the production of oil and gas (don’t ask us, we don’t make the rules).
Legislative Branch: The Legislative branch is made up of two houses (if you want to be fancy you can say bicameral): the House of Representatives and the Senate. This crew creates the state budget, writes and passes laws, and can impeach the Executive branch members if necessary.
- House of Representatives: This is the “lower” house of the legislature. There are 150 members of the House, commonly referred to as representatives. So if your representative was name Jane Doe, she would be referred to as Representative Doe. Even though it’s commonly referred to as the “lower” house, with the Senate being the “upper” house, it doesn’t have different levels of power than the Senate. The main differences are number of members and some of the specific rules governing process. The Speaker of the House oversees the process of the House, and this person is a Representative who is chosen for the role by the House members.
- Senate: The Texas Senate is the “upper” chamber, and there are 31 Senators in it. If your senator is named Jane Doe, they’re referred to as Senator Doe. Members of both the Senate and the House write and pass laws in their own chambers, and then they send them to the other chamber for that chamber’s approval or changes. Learn more about this process here.
And within both the House of Representatives and the Senate are committees. A committee is a group of legislators appointed to consider legislation pertaining to a specific issue. Committees include Agriculture and Livestock, Human Services, Public Health, Public Education, and Environmental Regulation. They’re designed with the idea that a few legislators can be experts on a certain topic and apply that expertise to the laws in question before they get considered by the entire House or Senate.
So if you see a bill labeled SB 10, that means it’s a Senate Bill (SB) and was written and filed by a Senator in the Senate. If it’s called HB 6789, that means it’s a House Bill (HB) and was written and filed by a Representative in the House.
If you want to know who your Senator and Representative are, click here for a website that allows you to enter your address and find out both your federal and state representatives.