Dec 6, 2023 - News

The cost of Texas' special legislative sessions

Illustration of a dollar sign etched into the tip of a fountain pen.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Texas' 181 lawmakers have spent 106 days this year in special sessions, accounting for roughly $4.2 million in per diem allowances alone.

  • That doesn't include other costs, like staff time and supplies.
  • It also doesn't include the two weeks that senators spent in the impeachment trial of Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Driving the news: Lawmakers ended the fourth special session of the year on Tuesday. It's not clear if or when Gov. Greg Abbott will call back lawmakers.

The big picture: It's uncommon for a Texas governor to call more than three special sessions beyond the Legislature's 140-day regular sessions every other year.

  • Rick Perry was governor the last time state lawmakers convened for four special sessions, in 2003-04.

How it works: State senators and representatives get $221 per day to be in Austin for legislative work. They're also given pension benefits and paid $7,200 annually, which is on the lower end of state lawmakers' salaries nationally.

  • Texas lawmakers can also get reimbursed for any travel expenses, though they don't always file for the reimbursement, Texas House accounting manager Scott Siebert tells Axios.

Between the lines: Most Texas lawmakers have other jobs; time in Austin means time spent away from their professions — and their families.

What they did: During this year's special sessions, lawmakers have passed bills ranging from a prohibition on COVID vaccine mandates to a historic property tax cut.

  • Abbott listed four priorities for the fourth special session — primary and secondary education including the education savings account program, school safety, border infrastructure and creating criminal offenses for people who come to Texas illegally.
  • Lawmakers passed two immigration-related bills: Senate Bill 3, sent to the Texas comptroller for review, aims to bolster border security; and Senate Bill 4, awaiting Abbott's approval, would allow Texas police to arrest people who illegally cross the border from Mexico.

Reality check: Not all the work was particularly consequential.

  • Lawmakers passed 220 pieces of legislation during the fourth session, including dozens of resolutions recognizing various Texans such as Texas Rangers general manager Chris Young and the entire team for winning the 2023 World Series.
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