For anyone who is new to the legislative process, or who could use a refresher, the basic process is laid out here.
A proposal can die at any of the bulleted steps below, so it is important to remember that just because a proposal is being discussed, there is no guarantee that it will become law. At the same time, if you support a piece of legislation, it may need your help to get all the way through the process.
- Finding a bill sponsor and getting legislation drafted into bill form are the first steps. Some ideas that you hear about remain in the idea stage and are never introduced as actual bills.
- Any legislator can file a bill, and thousands of bills are filed between November and the filing deadline in March. A substantial percentage of those bills will never move any farther in the process.
- In both the House and Senate, committee chairs will determine whether a bill will be scheduled for a committee hearing.
- If there is a hearing, the legislation is explained by the legislator who filed it and testified on by witnesses, both for and against. It can be amended by the committee. If the bill is then approved by the committee, its next step depends on whether it is a House or Senate bill.
- In the House, a bill that is voted out of its subject matter committee (e.g., the House Public Education Committee) then moves to the Calendars Committee. It may stop there. But if it has enough support within the Calendars Committee, it will be scheduled for action on the House floor.
- A noncontroversial House bill may be assigned to the “Consent Calendar” which typically moves quickly with little debate; other bills are scheduled for the normal calendar and may be debated and amended on the floor. Eventually, having been scheduled for House consideration, it will be voted on by the full House.
- In the Senate, there is no equivalent of the House’s Calendars Committee. If a bill passes out of committee, the Senate author can place it on the “Intent Calendar,” which signals that he or she would like to bring it up for consideration on the Senate floor. Under Senate rules, a bill must have a five-ninths majority vote (at least an 18-13 vote, if all 31 senators are present) in order to be heard on the floor. Thus, a controversial bill can be prevented from consideration by the full Senate if a voting bloc of 14 senators refuses to vote to bring it up. A bill that survives that vote is then subject to a majority vote after debate and potential amendments on the Senate floor.
- A bill that passes the first chamber then moves to the other side of the building and begins the process again. For example, a House bill that passed the House will be assigned to a Senate committee and that chair will determine whether the bill receives a hearing.
- If a House bill makes it through both the House and the Senate but is amended in the Senate, or vice versa, it must then return to the first chamber and legislators will vote on whether to accept the changes or to appoint a conference committee. If there were no amendments, or if the originating chamber accepts the amendments, the bill moves to the governor’s desk.
- If a conference committee is appointed, five senators and five House members will try develop a final, agreed-upon version of the bill. If they are able to approve a final version, it must then be voted up or down (no opportunity for amendments) by both the House and Senate.
- A bill that has finally passed both the House and Senate will be considered by the governor. The governor can sign the bill into law, veto the bill, or allow the bill to become law (after a designated period of time) without his signature.
- If a bill proposes an amendment to the Texas Constitution, it must also be voted on by Texas voters after the governor's approval.
Last session, nearly 7,800 bills and substantive resolutions were filed, but just over 1,500 of them eventually became law. Although the number of bills filed this session appears to be on track for a similar total, conventional wisdom is that due to COVID-19 restrictions and the desire to minimize lengthy, in-person gatherings, efforts will be made to pare down the numbers of bills scheduled for committee hearings and debated on the Senate and House floors.
As always, TCTA is heavily involved in every step of this process to encourage good bills and fight bad ones. We may ask for your help at some point and, as always, we encourage you to reach out to your House and Senate members to let them know your opinions on key legislation.