Every odd-numbered year, the Texas Legislature meets to pass new bills into law which can have a significant impact on the state. HillCo Partners, a full-service public and government affairs consulting firm, is actively involved in this through close monitoring of the legislative process. Here’s an overview of how bills become law through a 7-step process in Texas, which HillCo watches closely for its clients:
Bills can be filed the first week after a General Election and at any time during the legislative session. Bills may come from individual legislators, outside parties, committees, or be brought forward from a previous session. HillCo Partners monitors all these channels and interacts with lawmakers during the legislative session to keep track of bills, any amendments, and their progression.
Referral to Committee
The next step is to refer the bill to a committee. Not all bills make it to the committee stage, with only 32% making it this far during the 87th Regular Session. Both the House and Senate have a range of committees that meet to discuss bills related to their respective scopes, with members of the House sitting on at least one committee and members of the Senate sitting on multiple. The chair of each committee decides which bills will be considered, and not all bills that are referred to a committee will be heard.
Referral Calendar Committee
Bills that are voted out of committee are then heard on the floor of either the House or Senate. Before a bill reaches the floor, it must be set on a calendar. In the house, a committee report is referred to the committee coordinator who sends the report to the appropriate calendars committee. In the Senate, they are placed on the regular order of business or are referred to the Administration Committee to await scheduling.
Sent to Floor Debates
Next, the bill is sent to the floor where it’s debated and may be amended by the chamber. Amendments are added via simple majority votes with one vote for each proposed amendment. After the initial amendment and debate process (the ‘second reading’), members will vote on the bill for passage to the third reading. Bills must be read on three separate legislative days in each chamber to become law, but this can be suspended by a four-fifths vote, such as if an emergency bill needs to be passed quickly.
Return to Original Chamber
After being passed through both chambers, a bill returns to its originating chamber. If the opposing chamber made no amendments, it will be sent to the governor. If it makes an appropriation of funds, it will be sent to the comptroller of public accounts first. If, however, the originating chamber disagrees with amendments by the opposing chamber, they can request for a conference committee to bridge the gap between the House and Senate bill versions, with five members of each chamber sent as part of the conference who must use the existing two versions of the bill to come to an agreeable final version.
Sent to Governor
Once both chambers are satisfied, the bill is sent to the governor who can either sign it within 20 days, veto it, or allow a bill to become law without a signature. The bill will return to its original chamber if the governor vetoes while the legislature is still in session, but since a two-thirds majority vote in each house can override a veto during a session, it’s a rare occurrence.
Bill Becomes Law
The date a bill takes effect depends on the last action needed 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
- The date the House and Senate override a veto
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.