A Texas Legislative Process Overview by HillCoPartners.com Staff
Every odd-numbered year the Texas Legislature meets to discuss policy and pass bills into law which can change the landscape and environment of the state. HillCo Partners closely monitors and is actively involved in the Texas Legislative process. The information below aims to be a concise and thorough explanation of a bill's journey through the legislation process.
The Legislature is comprised of two chambers with 150-elected members in the House and 31-elected members in the Senate. These elected members can file bills the very first week after the General Election and there is usually a rush of bill filings on that first week in November. From there forward a bill can be filed at any time during the legislative session. The idea for the bill may originate from the legislator themselves, from an interested outside party, from the discussions/findings of a committee, or could be a bill from a previous session. HillCo Partners monitors all these possible channels during the legislative session and in between sessions, the interim, to provide clients updates on various topics that may be moving. The HillCo lobby team also interacts with lawmakers and their offices during the legislative session since there are several stages in the process where a bill can be amended, or its progress can be halted or stopped.
Committees & Referral to Committee
After a bill is introduced in a chamber or received from the opposite chamber for consideration, the next step in the process is sending, or referring, the bill to committee. Not all bills make it through the committee process. During the 87th Regular Session, around 32% of filed bills were referred to committee (Texas Legislature Online). HillCo Partners monitors this process during the legislative session and provides information to which bills they are taking up by posting links to the various committee meetings on their website. Sending a bill to committee does not guarantee a bill will be set on the calendar or heard in committee. Both the House and the Senate have a variety of committees comprised of members chosen by House or Senate leadership that will meet through session to discuss bills that are related to the committee's scope. Factors such as seniority can impact committee membership. House members are at least on one committee while some sit on two or three. Members of the Senate tend to sit on multiple committees.
The chair of each committee is in charge of the committee's meeting schedule and which bills will be considered at what hearing. Committees can meet in formal hearings, work sessions, or public hearings. It is also possible they meet at their desk and when this happens the HillCo team will be monitoring and engaged. If there is a regular hearing posted then it is important to review whether the hearing will have invited or public testimony. Invited testimony means the committee has reached out to ask specific people to testify at the hearing. If the meeting includes public testimony, then there is an opportunity for individuals to sign up and anyone can testify before the committee. HillCo Partners will monitor both as well as be prepared to circulate to their clients the handouts from a hearing with invited testimony and a report on key hearings. At the end of either a formal or a public hearing, the committee chair may choose to hold a vote on a bill so that it can move to the next stage of the process. Bills can be voted out with no amendments, with amendments, or substituted as a new bill for the original bill. If the bill is not voted on, the chair will leave the bill pending. Bills that are left pending can be brought up by the chair again to be voted out at any point. The HillCo communication team is alertly following hearings and reporting outcomes to clients especially when legislators are meeting early into the morning. Additionally, HillCo Partners will push out an Advisory to all clients on key bills that are languishing in committee or being retooled. This also occurs when bills pick-up speed and are quickly moved on to the next round of discussions.
Calendars & Items Eligible for Consideration
If a bill is voted out of committee, the next step is for the bill to be heard on the floor of either the House or the Senate. Before the bill is taken up on the floor, the bill has to be set on a calendar in order for it to be taken up. HillCo Partners also tracks these stages of bill progress and reports updates to clients during the process.
In the House, a committee report is referred to the committee coordinator who sends the report to the appropriate calendars committee. Bills may quickly move out of this committee or may languish in this spot as well depending on the identified work the bill may need. Bills that are reported out of committee in the Senate are placed on the senate's regular order of business or referred to the Administration Committee where they will await scheduling on a local and uncontested calendar. The Senate's regular order of business is less of a set schedule, but rather a list that reports when bills have been passed out of committee.
House & Senate Floor
When a bill is brought to the floor, it is subject to debate and amendment by the membership of the entire chamber. Bills begin on what is called second reading. Members can add amendments onto bill on second reading by a vote of a simple majority and a separate vote is held for each amendment offered. After this initial amendment and debate process, members will vote on the bill for passage to third reading.
There are also limitations on how a bill can be amended on third reading versus second reading in the House. Additionally, it is possible for a bill to be on the floor being worked on and amended and the process called to a halt. HillCo Partners will also be monitoring this critical juncture as bills can be pulled down for a time certain as they are worked on, but it also may happen where that could be a signal the bill will not be progressing any further. The HillCo team works together communicating throughout the entire Texas legislative process and also focuses on informing clients every step of the way through the HillCo Client Advisory newsletter.
Bills are required to be read on three separate legislative days in each chamber in order for them to become law. This Texas constitutional requirement can be suspended by a four-fifths vote and the bill can be taken up third reading the same day it was taken up on second reading. This rarely happens in the House, but the Senate regularly suspends this provision. Once a bill is taken up for third reading, it may be amended by a two-thirds vote. After this amendment process, or if it is not amended, a vote will be taken for final passage. If the bill receives a simple majority vote, it has been passed by that chamber.
Once a bill has been passed by its originating chamber, all the changes made to it are added to the bill and the engrossed version is sent to the opposite chamber for consideration. The bill will then move through the committee and floor process in the opposite chamber.
A Bill's Return to its Originating Chamber
After a bill has passed through both chambers, it will return to its originating chamber. If the opposite chamber did not amend the bill, it will be enrolled and sent to the governor. If a bill makes an appropriation of funds, the bill must be sent to and certified by the comptroller of public accounts before it is sent to the governor. The process is the same for a bill that was amended by the opposite chamber and the originating chamber concurs with those changes.
However, if the originating chamber does not concur with amendments made by the opposite chamber, they have an opportunity to request the appointment of a conference committee to resolve the discrepancies between the House and Senate bill versions. The chamber of origin and the opposite chamber will both appoint five members to be a part of the conference. The committee is limited by the text that is already in existence in two versions of the bill and may not change, alter, amend or omit text. However, if the committee adopts an 'out of bounds' resolution, those types of changes are permitted. If one chamber does not agree with the conference committee report, it could go back to conference committee, or the bill will not progress.
Bills Sent to the Governor
The governor can either sign, veto, or allow a bill to become law without a signature. If the governor vetoes the bill while the legislature is in session, the bill is returned to its chamber of origin. The governor will send an explanation for the veto to the legislature, but if a veto occurs while the legislature is still in session then a two-thirds majority in each chamber can override the veto. However, a veto during legislative session is relatively rare. The governor either has 10 days to sign a bill or has 20 days to sign a bill if it was received within 10 days of final adjournment of a session.
Bills Becoming Law
Bills that are labeled as 'effective immediately' need to receive a two-thirds vote from the floor of each chamber in order to 'immediately' become law. The date these bills will take effect depends on the last action necessary for them to become law: the date the bill is signed by the governor, after the time has passed for it to become law without the governor's signature, or the date the House and Senate override a veto. HillCo Partners will also send an update to clients covering the number of bills and statements if there are any vetoed bills during the legislative session.
During the 87th session, around 15.5% of bills filed made it all the way through this process and 20 bills that made it through the process were vetoed by the governor. A bill's progress depends on the priorities of House and Senate leadership, the will of the elected members, constituent feedback, and time. HillCo Partners has spent years cultivating communication and coordination within the team to help leverage strengths and be aware and engaged in the bill process. The statement 'a bill has died' could mean it is really done progressing through the process during that session, but the HillCo team also keeps alert for the possible resuscitation of bills. The HillCo team also knows language could be seen again. Bills that do not make it through the entire process during one session can be re-filed again and taken up during a subsequent session.
The HillCo team is comprised of experienced advocates who watch for these various nuances in the Texas legislative process and work together seamlessly.
*Sources: The Legislative Process in Texas & Texas Legislature Online.
About: HillCo Partners was founded by Neal T. 'Buddy' Jones and Bill Miller. It is a full-service firm that provides consultancy services for public and government affairs. The firm opened for business in 1998, and today, it is the top-ranked Texas lobbying firm. It has been one of the top firms in Texas since its conception, with Texas Monthly calling it, 'A talent-laden consulting firm.' More information about the firm can be found on their website: www.hillcopartners.com.