In Wednesday's Capitol Update we provided a refresher on the legislative process. But some of you may be wondering why — more than six weeks after the session began — lawmakers still haven't voted on any bills.
There are a few reasons for the slow start. The primary one is a provision in the Texas Constitution that prohibits the House and Senate from passing non-appropriation bills during the first 60 days of the session — except if the chamber suspends rules by a 4/5 vote, or if the legislation is on a topic that the governor has declared an emergency item. This session's emergency items (so far) include school safety and "education freedom" (voucher programs).
Aside from that constitutional hurdle, it takes the Texas House, in particular, several weeks to get organized. Unlike the Senate side, with little turnover in its membership and a leader (the lieutenant governor) who was elected several weeks earlier, the House does not elect its Speaker until the first day of the session. At some point after that selection, the Speaker asks the 149 other members of the House for their preferred committee choices, and then must arrange them into more than 30 standing committees, taking into account their preferences, their seniority, areas of expertise, and diversity of geography, ethnicity and political party. The committee appointments were announced on Feb. 8, and many committee chairs have been working to hire committee staff and determine meeting schedules.
Behind the scenes, there is plenty of action, with bill filings, individual and small group meetings to discuss legislative proposals before hearings are set, and much more. Budget hearings have begun in the Senate Finance and House Appropriations Committees. But now we have finally reached the stage where other committees are scheduling organizational meetings and even a few bill hearings.
TCTA primarily follows the budget committees, the House Public Education and Senate Education Committees (general education issues), and the Senate State Affairs and House Pensions, Investments & Financial Services committees (TRS/health insurance). However, there are often bills in other committees such as those dealing with juvenile justice, and business/industry that can require our attention.
You can expect to hear more about individual bills in the coming weeks as the House and Senate committees begin scheduling their regular meetings. Legislators have until March 10 to file bills, so we are still waiting for many major proposals, including highly anticipated bills relating to teacher pay and working conditions.