Texas Legislature convenes amid celebration

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, laughs with his wife, Julie, and daughter, Sara, during opening day of the 83rd Legislative Session. House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, laughs with his wife, Julie, and daughter, Sara, during opening day of the 83rd Legislative Session.[/caption]

Updated 6:23 p.m. Jan. 10

With its trademark celebration and a glimmer of politics, the 83rd Texas Legislature convened Jan. 8 in Austin with its largest freshman class in four decades.

Faced with both an infusion of oil and gas funds and a variety of challenges in education funding, water issues, energy infrastructure and more, the 150 state representatives and 31 state senators took their oaths of office before standing-room only crowds in the Capitol building.

An anticipated fight over the position of House speaker ended before it began when challenger Rep. David Simpson, R-District 7, withdrew his name from consideration after telling his colleagues in a brief speech that he hoped all representatives would be given a fair shot at serving their districts during the session, regardless of politics.

House Speaker Joe Straus was re-elected without further challenge.

Asked by reporters if his agenda would include social issues such as abortion, which Gov. Rick Perry said was one of his priorities, Straus said his focus this session would be on the things "that will define whether Texas is a state of opportunities for people," such as infrastructure, water supply and resources, jobs and education.

"That's my agenda," he said. "That's what I'm here to focus on. There are 149 other members other than me. And not everyone shares exactly the same order or priorities that I do. But I don't want there to be any mistake about what I'm focusing on. Nothing new about it—education, jobs, infrastructure, resources."

In remarks to the chambers, Perry welcomed lawmakers back to work and celebrated the news delivered by Texas Comptroller Susan Combs on Jan. 7 that Texas would be starting the session flush with billions in revenue and a robust rainy day fund.

But while Democrats have said the big revenue should mean a refunding of services and priorities, such as education, that were cut during a 2011 shortfall, Perry warned against sliding back into old spending habits.

"This session is an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to the policies that have made Texas economically strong in the first place," he said. "When people keep more of their own money it's better for them, it's better for their families and it's better for the state. It's time to take a hard look at providing tax relief."

The first day of the 140-day legislative session was marked with open-house parties in Capitol offices, halls filled with excited staffers, lobbyists, reporters and activists, and a few light moments.

Moments before Perry was set to address the House, Rep. Harold Dutton, D-District 142, who was a freshman representative alongside Perry in the 1980s, got a big laugh from the crowd when he reminded the chamber that the last Texas governor went on to become president—an obvious dig at Perry's failed run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2011.

Perry stood up at the podium and reminded Dutton that the Houston Democrat was "a lot younger-looking back then," drawing more laughter from the crowd.

In the Senate, during the nominating speeches for President Pro Tem Leticia Van De Putte of San Antonio, Sen. John Carona, R-District 16, who is of Italian heritage, joked that Van De Putte often gets mistaken for an Italian because of her fashion sense.

"Who else can come onto the floor wearing a fedora?" he said. "Not me. I tried it, and they wouldn't let me in the door."

Freshman Rep. Tony Dale, R-District 136, of Cedar Park, whose district was newly drawn for this cycle, was chosen among a group of seven House members to head over to the Senate and announce officially that House was "organized and ready for business."

Dale said he expected about 150 people to have visited his new office before the day's end.

"LIving close to the Capitol has its advantages," he said, with a laugh. "For the constituents and also for me. I'm fortunate, I get to go home every night. A lot of my colleagues have to get an apartment and have separation from their families, but I don't have that issue."

Dale took the oath of office on two Bibles: One he received in the Army when he and his wife served, and the other belonging to his grandmother and grandfather—the same one he used to take the oath of office upon joining the Cedar Park City Council.

"It's very meaningful," he said.