Texas Lawmakers Return to Austin

House elects new House Speaker

Texas lawmakers returned to Austin on Tuesday for what could be a difficult 81st legislative session.

The first order of business in the House came when member elected Republican representative Joe Straus as House Speaker.

Rep. Straus replaced Midland Republican Tom Craddick who served as speaker since 2003.

Straus is a two-term Republican from San Antonio who has promised to bring bipartisanship and civility to a chamber that had been sharply divided.

With the economy on a downward turn this year, budgeting will likely pose a huge challenge to lawmakers as they try to balance the state budget while adequately funding projects like roads, schools and health care.

The National Conference of State Legislatures forecasts legislators will face nine key issues this year. 

Balancing the budget will take front seat, followed by funding transportation, higher education, health care, alternative energy, and the prison systems. Helping struggling homeowners and the unemployed will also be major obstacles facing legislators.

In the House, veteran Speaker Tom Craddick will likely surrender his seat as many Republicans are publicly backing rookie representative Joe Straus from San Antonio. Straus is expected to be elected and sworn in Tuesday afternoon.

A few other issues that could become hot-button topics include several anti-immigration bills that have been proposed as well as bills to legalize gambling and freeze tuition rates at state schools.

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