The Wednesday editorial "Legislators play too much" suggested the frantic pace of the final few weeks of the legislative session is because of legislators taking unnecessary long weekends.
The fact is that, regardless of the number of "long weekends" the Legislature takes, this time of the session is always a race against the clock.
To give some perspective, the Texas Constitution grants us only five months every two years to conduct all the legislative business of a state with the world's eighth-largest economy and the third-highest population in the United States.
The Legislature's volume of work has increased steadily each session during the past several decades. This 79th Session, more than 5,000 bills were filed in the House of Representatives and Senate. The fast-growing, complex and diverse nature of Texas puts our Legislature to the test each biennium. This session is no exception.
The "long weekends" serve important purposes for legislators, many of whom travel considerable distances each week between their home districts and Austin. Long weekends allow me to return to my home district to deal with the concerns of constituents while the Legislature is in session and laws are being made.
Most legislators use an extra Friday to keep up with the needs of their district in person. From personal experience, I can truthfully say long weekends during the session are rarely spent on anything other than meeting constituents, maintaining my law practice or attending meetings in the district.
It also bears mentioning that the Texas Legislature is fairly unique among the 50 states. Our legislators serve in a part-time body that pays members less than the equivalent of minimum wage. For example, a legislator who puts in an 80-hour workweek, as we did recently, receives less than $2 per hour. That means legislators do not serve their fellow Texans as a career, but rather as a calling.
That also means legislators must continue their own careers even while the Legislature is in session. Occasional long weekends during the session allow us to keep our careers, businesses and practices in operation while we take care of the business of the people of Texas.
Finally, like most Texans, legislators have families and responsibilities that do not cease when we head to Austin every two years. One state representative recently had her first child while serving her first term as a legislator, and many others have infants and young children whose demands for attention do not cease when session begins.
Lawmakers make many sacrifices to serve their districts and state, but I am convinced most Texans would not ask them to sacrifice a few days during the session to return home to celebrate Easter weekend, their wife's birthday or attend a movie with their children.
Criticizing the Legislature is the right of every Texan, and some criticisms are well-founded. However, the public is not well-served when the media inaccurately represent a common-sense provision of longer weekends during the earlier part of the legislative session.
As the session moves toward its end, long weekends are uncommon and extremely long hours are the norm. Recently, for example, many legislators clocked more than 80 hours against strict deadlines on behalf of their constituents. Legislators serving on committees routinely spend even longer hours at the Capitol, often leaving their offices not long before the sun rises on another day.
The long weekends criticized by the editorial provide an important opportunity for representatives of the people to stay in touch with their communities, maintain their businesses and play active roles in their families while conducting the business of the public — in Austin and back home in the districts that elect them.
State Rep. Carlos I. Uresti, D-San Antonio, represents District 118 in the Texas House.