How current state government officials perceive their role in Texas society today

Background

Texas is part of a federal system of government, that is, it is one of fifty states in a political system that divides power between the national and state governments. The United States Constitution, federal law, federal court decisions, and federal treaties make up the highest level of political authority in the country. States possess considerable powers of their own so long as they are not in conflict with the federal government. The history of federalism in the United States reflects real arguments about which level of government should exercise the most political power in the country. Texans, like many southerners, have long taken the position that state and local governments should be the centers of power, while others believe that federal authority is uniform and better for the nation as a whole.

In addition to the broad grant of power the 10th Amendment of the US Constitution gives to states,* the Texas Constitution provides an elaborate description of local governments and sets forth their relationship to the state. Municipalities (cities) and counties have been granted significant powers, including home-rule status to cities that exceed 5,000 in population. So important to the functioning of a geographically large state, this home rule status enables large cities to make their own laws so long as they do not conflict with federal or state laws. Counties in Texas, on the other hand, are restricted by Dillon's Rule, which means they lack the independent power to make their own laws and instead carry out functions given by the state. These beliefs about state and local political control infuse the spirit of federalism in Texas.

The 1876 Texas Constitution, defines the relationship of Texans to their government and the government to the people. It is a long, detailed, complex document reflective of nineteenth-century conservative values. In its great length, it essentially tells the government what it can do and thereby restricts it to doing only that which is explicitly granted. It creates a weak governorship and provides that the legislature meet only once every two years in regular session for a limited time period of 140 calendar days. So important to the drafters of this document were the rights and protections of Texans that the first Article sets forth the Texas Bill of Rights, not a series of amendments like we find in the US Constitution. And even more so than the United States Constitution, the Texas Bill of Rights protects Texans from the potential abuse of political power by the state. Texans consider themselves among the freest Americans in the union. These beliefs about limited government infuse the spirit of the Texas Constitution.

(*10th Amendment – "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.")

This Assignment allows you to explore how current state government officials perceive their role in Texas society today. Assessing the state’s relationship to key issues occurring in Texas, we will deepen our understanding of politics taking place around us. As we will learn throughout this term, the Republican Party, the modern party of political conservatism, dominates state government in Texas, including 95 of 150 members in the House, and 20 of 31 members of the Senate, the governor and all other members of the plural executive, and all but one state judgeships. However, though technically non-partisan (candidates do not run for office using a party label), Texas's biggest cities have elected politically liberal city governments that seek to use their ordinance (law) making powers to enhance the quality of life for all residents. This partisan divide between state and local governments in Texas led one Houston policy analyst to wonder if the current governor of Texas is trying simultaneously to serve as the "Mayor of Texas."

Theoretically opposed to “big government,” Texas Republicans have pursued tax and program cuts in an effort to shrink the scope of state government while simultaneously attempting to expand state political control over local affairs, including fracking regulations, sanctuary city status, plastic shopping bag bans, and ride-sharing restrictions. Additionally, Texas Republicans have used their political power to legislate in privacy areas like placing limits on abortion providers, defunding Planned Parenthood, and regulating public restroom use thereby growing the scope of state government powers over local governments.

This assignment seeks to evaluate your understanding of Texas politics in relation to a question of federalism and a question of privacy. The assigned readings for Module 1 as well as information you are linked to below will help you formulate your responses to the Assignment questions. This is a critical thinking exercise that calls on you to obtain, weigh, and assess information. It will take time to do this well.

The Assignment

1. Assess the spirit of federalism by examining the exercise of Texas state authority over local fracking regulations or sanctuary cities or plastic shopping bag bans or ride-sharing restrictions. For information about the role of local governments in Texas, especially home-rule cities that legislate in these areas, go to https://www.tml.org/Handbook-M&C/Chapter1.pdf (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.. Use the Texas Tribune(texastribune.org (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.) to look for background information about the topic you are interested in (again, choose one: local fracking regulations or sanctuary cities or plastic shopping bag bans or ride-sharing restrictions).

2. Analyze the spirit of the Texas Constitution by examining the Bill of Rights in its relation to limitations on abortion providers or defunding Planned Parenthood or limiting public restroom use. Explore the Texas Bill of Rights here: http://law.justia.com/constitution/texas/articles/cn000100.html (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.. Use the Texas Tribune (texastribune.org (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.) to look for background information about the topic you are interested in (again, choose one: limitations on abortion providers or defunding Planned Parenthood or limiting public restroom use).

Your essay must include responses to the following:

· A brief description of your topics and what your research found out about them.

· Paragraph 1 – Texas state authority over local policy

· Paragraph 2 – Texas Bill of Rights and policy

· Is the Texas government’s recent effort to make policy in your chosen areas in keeping with the spirit of federalism spirit of the Texas Constitution?

· Paragraph 3 – The spirit of federalism

· Paragraph 4 – The spirit of the Texas Bill of Rights

· Is the Texas government solving a problem with its policy positions or is its positions on policies more political; i.e., designed to appeal to specific constituencies of voters, in its designs?

· Paragraph 5 – Respond about both policies you selected to examine

· What have you learned from doing this assignment?

· Paragraph 6 – Be specific about what you have learned about federalism and state political power.

I want to assess your understanding of the assigned readings in Module 1, so you must write in your own words (no quotes, no paraphrases, no copy/paste from websites, etc.). To earn full points you must demonstrate your understanding by responding to the prompts in a well-written essay of at least 400 words (double-spaced in 12-point font). Please use a spell/grammar check like grammarly.com

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