Highlights Tuesday from the Texas Legislature

Austin, TX – The 81st Texas Legislature convened with $9 billion less to spend, a new leader in the House and lawmakers facing some tough questions about the economy, education, and how to best prepare for the next hurricane.

Legislators were warned Monday that times could be tough when state Comptroller Susan Combs told them of the cash crunch. Even though the session will be jammed from now until June 1 with policy debates on myriad issues, the two-year budget is the only bill lawmakers are required to pass.

And for a little while, there was a renewed spirit of bipartisanship.

Rep. Joe Straus, a 49-year-old San Antonio Republican relatively unknown statewide, yesterday was elected House Speaker to lead a chamber bitterly divided under Tom Craddick of Midland.

Craddick, who in 2003 became the first Republican speaker since the Civil War era, was forced to abandon a fourth term when his support eroded. Knowing his historic tenure was at an end, Craddick sat next to his wife Nadine and listened as Straus pledged to bring bipartisanship and civility to the House where Republicans hold a a slim 76-74 majority.

Straus inherits one of the most powerful positions in state government. The speaker sets the agenda in the Texas House and, in terms of political influence, is on par with the governor and lieutenant governor.