The Texas Legislature Rides Again

When they call the roll in the Senate, the Senators do not know whether to answer ‘Present’ or ‘Not guilty.’   – Theodore Roosevelt

The Texas Legislature is again in session. No person or property interest is safe.

To comprehend the danger, you must first understand the legislative process. A legislator introduces a bill (a representative introduces it in the House, and a Senator introduces it in the Senate). The text of the bill, which is actually a proposed law or change to an existing law, may be drafted by the legislator, his staff, attorneys hired by the government, a lobbying group, a committee, or anyone else with some power and influence.

Any and all bills can be introduced in the first 60 days of the session.   This is important, because if the legislator misses the 60 day period, then the bill can only be considered if it is included as an amendment to another bill.   Thus comes the race at the end of each session to attach completely unrelated amendments to popular bills.

The head of each chamber refers the bill to committee. The committees are formed at the beginning of each legislative session.   If the bill is complex, it goes first to a subcommittee.

Each bill is reviewed to determine if it needs a “fiscal note” or other impact statement. Fiscal notes are prepared by the Legislative Budget Board and must be completed before the first public hearing. Other impact statements can be attached later.

The committee hold public hearings on the bill. Every committee hearing has to be posted with at least 24 hours notice. Every committee meeting must be open to the public.

The committee then makes a decision. If it takes no action, then the bill “dies in committee.” If it takes action, then it issues a report with a recommendation of passage, passage with amendments, or passage with an entirely new bill.

After all of that work, the committee’s decision is merely advisory and not binding on either the House or the Senate.

The chief clerk of each chamber puts the bill on the calendar for consideration and vote. Placement on the calendar is subject to a number of complex and arcane rules.   The political games ramp up accordingly.

The bill is supposed to be read (by caption only) for three days in a row in the chamber. The Senate usually suspends the second reading, while the House insists on all 3 days. There are various amendments and votes, all in accordance with the rules adopted by each Chamber on the first day. Again, political games are rampant.

If the bill passes one Chamber, then it is engrossed (all of the changes and corrections are incorporated into it) and sent to the other Chamber for consideration.

When the second chamber passes it, the bill and any amendments are sent back to the first chamber. If there are a lot of changes to the original bill, it may be sent to the Conference Committee to work out the differences. If the Conference Committee can’t agree on a version, then the Bill is “killed.” If they do agree, then the new version is again sent to both Chambers for vote.

The passed Bill is sent to the Governor, who has 10 days to sign, veto or do nothing.   Only a Veto will prevent it from becoming law. The Senate and House can override a Veto with 2/3 vote.

If only 10 days are left in the session when the Governor receives the bill, then he has 20 days to decide. If he vetoes it, the bill is dead because the Legislature is out of session and can’t vote to over-ride the veto.

The Legislature meets every two years for a ridiculously short period of time to make monumental decisions with often catastrophic consequences.   Looking at the convoluted process, it’s a wonder that anything gets done.