Pomp, ceremony and agenda outlines mark first day of session

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by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist ROBERT MCMURREY

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on January 8, 2013 at 7:38 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jan 8 at 7:41 PM

AUSTIN -- The song "Texas, Our Texas" and plenty of ceremony kicked off the opening day of the 83rd Texas Legislature at the Texas State Capitol.

Political watchers of all stripes gathered to view and participate in a 166-year old Texas tradition. The more noticeable faces included former Republican presidential contender Rick Santorum, yet the majority of those in attendance were friends and family of the 181 state representatives and state senators gathered for the noon start.

"I'm really excited to come out and support my stepfather Philip Cortez," said Delany Montoya, stepdaughter of the San Antonio Democrat who won election to the Texas House of Representatives in HD 117. "We worked really hard to get here, so I'm really excited to see him get sworn in."

The first order of business for the House was the reelection of State Rep. Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) as Speaker after erstwhile challenger State Rep. David Simpson (R-Longview) announced his withdrawal from the race.

After swearing in, Straus wasted no time laying out his priorities in 2013.

"Education, water, infrastructure, jobs and budget transparency," Straus said. "That will determine what kind of a state we'll be when 36 million people do live here."

Governor Rick Perry addressed both chambers and did not formally declare any emergency items. Instead, Perry submitted a partial outline of legislative priorities, including career readiness programs for high school students, requiring drug testing for welfare benefits and a fetal pain bill which would shrink the window for women to undergo legal abortions.

"Those are just a few of the ideas and issues that you're going to be faced with as you go forward over the next 140 days," Perry told House members.

Perry also warned against increased spending, despite Monday's report by Texas Comptroller Susan Combs indicating the 2013 session will begin with drastically improved revenue estimates over 2011 and $8.8 billion left over from the last session.

"We have to remember that Monday's revenue estimate represents not a chance to spend freely, but an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to the very policies that have made Texas economically the strongest in the nation," said Perry.

State Rep. Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin) argues the money should go to restoring deep cuts in areas such as education, health and human services and Medicaid, a battle fellow Texas Democrats vow to make a priority this session.

"The revenue projections were off by about $9 billion and we really could have done what we needed to do for Texas," said Dukes. "So my focus is to do what we need to do for Texas."

Dukes said over the coming weeks lawmakers will be paying particular attention to committee assignments. One of the most important committees for those seeking real legislative power is appropriations, which directly oversees the state budget.

It's a busy start to a very busy year.

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