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The Texas Legislature is the most powerful branch of the state government. They write the laws.


The only determination the executive gets to make in the actual law-making process is exercised by the Governor, who is restricted to vetoing bills he or she doesn't agree with. But ultimately, even those vetoes can be overturned by the Legislature.

The judicial branch has no say whatsoever in the law-making process, but does occasionally determine that some laws already enacted actually violate the Constitutional rights of Texans, and overturns them.

Otherwise, the Executive and Judicial branches do as they are instructed by the Legislature.

The House and Senate meet in session at the Capitol in Austin from January to June, every odd numbered year.

Click on the sections below to learn more about the legislative process and those who contol it.

MEMBERSHIP

The Texas Constitution established a bicameral legislature consisting of a 150 member House of Representatives and a 31 member Senate. Not coincidentally, there are 150 Psalms and 31 Proverbs in the Bible.

These are the qualifications to run for these offices:

  • US citizen
  • Texas resident (5 years for State Senate, 2 years for State House)
  • Resident of the desired district for 1 year
  • Age: 26 for State Senate, 21 for State House

All normal state elections take place in even numbered years. State House members must face the voters each election, so they serve 2-year terms. State Senators serve 4-year terms.

Based on a 2010 census, each House district represents about 168,000 people and each Senate district about 811,000.

LEADERSHIP

The head of the House is the Speaker of the House. The head of the Senate is the Lieutenant Governor.

Both individuals are responsible for maintaining order in their respective chambers and assigning bills to committee. Their true power is exercised in their right to decide who chairs those committees.

The Speaker appoints his or her inner circle to control the various committees in the House, and the Lt. Governor does the same in the Senate. As no bills can become law without passing through these committees, the members in charge of them practically control the agenda in the Capitol.

Therefore, in order for a bill to pass into law, it must be approved by the inner circles of both the Speaker and the Lt. Governor.

The main difference between these two leaders is how they get their job. The Speaker is a member of the House, elected by the House. In contrast, the Lt. Governor is elected at-large by the people of Texas every 4 years.

So, their level of authority in the Capitol does vary.

The Speaker is somewhat beholden to the general contentment of the House. If they don't like him, they can pick a new one.

Not so in the Senate. Senators have no say in the choice for Lt. Governor, aside from casting a ballot every 4 years like the rest of us.

In this way, the Lt. Governor is typically more concerned with the desires of the overall electorate, while the Speaker is more responsive to his colleagues.

GENERAL PROCESS

A legislator may legally draft and file a bill shortly after winning office. He or she may file bills on any topic and with any desired policy change. But the time for debating that bill will not come until much, much later.

The legislature gavels in in mid-January, every odd numbered year, and gavels out 140 days later.

But it is not until the 60-day mark that either chamber is allowed to pass any legislation. The only exception to this rule is if the Governor has declared certain items to be an emergency. But again, the Legislature is free to disregard the Governor's wishes.

Let's divide the two chambers now, so you can see the process specific to each.

HOUSE PROCESS

Political observers in Texas tend to prefer to follow the goings-on in the House because the chamber is far more chaotic, and therefore dramatic.

The first order of business in the House takes place on day 1: the election of the Speaker. A successful candidate for Speaker needs only a simple majority.

Next, the House will adopt a set of rules governing their procedures.

After this, they will spend some time, probably weeks, waiting for the Speaker to pick his or her committee chairmen.

Here's the process for a successful bill in the House:

  • Speaker assigns it to committee. This is called "1st Reading"
  • Committee Chairman schedules a hearing
  • Public testimony is taken
  • Committee Chairman allows a vote, and the committee members approve it
  • The bill is assigned to 1 of 2 possible calendar committees to be placed on the House schedule for debate
    • Local and Consent Calendars Committee: bills passing through here are either supposed to effect specific local areas, or be simply non-controversial in nature
    • Committee on Calendars: all other bills pass through here
  • The Chairman of the calendar committee places it on the schedule for House floor debate
  • The bill is debated, possibly amended, and passed. This is called "2nd Reading"
  • The bill is debated again, possibly -- but with more difficulty -- amended, and passed. This is called "3rd Reading"

After passage on 3rd Reading, the bill moves to the Senate.

SENATE PROCESS

The first order of business in the Senate is to adopt the rules governing procedure.

The Lt. Governor then deliberates on his or her committee chair assignments, possibly for a few weeks.

Once committees are assigned, the Lt. Governor assigns bills to them. This is called "1st Reading," just as in the House.

The big difference between the House and Senate is the calendar process.

There is no committee in the Senate that sets the agenda. The Lt. Governor typically just brings bills to the floor that he knows have the votes to pass. But there is one quirky step in this process.

The Senate has something called the "blocker bill" which is a bill that is placed on the top of the schedule early on, but not voted on. Because it doesn't receive a vote, it prevents any other bill coming to the floor.

So to bring a bill to the floor of the Senate requires suspending the regular order of business. The vote to bypass the "blocker bill" requires a 19-12 majority for success.

Here's the typical process for a successful bill in the Senate:

  • The bill is filed
  • The Lt. Governor assigns it to committee (this is called "1st Reading")
  • The Committee Chairman schedules a public hearing
  • Public testimony is taken
  • The Committee Chairman allows a vote, and the members approve the bill
  • The bill is placed on the calendar behind the "blocker bill"
  • 19 Senators vote to suspend the rules, and bring up the bill
  • The bill is debated, possibly amended, and passed (this is called "2nd Reading")
  • The bill is debated again, possibly -- though with more difficulty -- amended again, and passed to the House (this is called "3rd Reading")
FINAL PASSAGE OF BILLS PROCESS

Once a House Bill (HB) has reached the Senate, or a Senate Bill (SB) has reached the House, it must be sponsored (carried) by a member of the other body. And the sponsor must jump through all the same hoops as he would have if the bill he was carrying had originated in his own chamber.

In other words, the process for an SB in the House, is the same as the process for an HB in the House.

If the second chamber changes the bill, those changes must be approved by the first chamber before the bill is considered finally passed.

For instance, if the House amends an SB, the bill goes back to the Senate for approval. At this point, the Senate can choose to approve the amendments (this is called "concurrence"), or request a Conference Committee.

A Conference Committee is a committee made up of Senators and House members tasked with working out the differences between the two versions of the bill.

The House can also request Conference Committees on bills that the Senate has amended.

Both concurrence and calls for conference do require a vote, but the chambers usually honor the desires of the bills' authors.

If a Conference Committee is successfully called, and the committee has time to successfully report a compromise back to the two chambers, both chambers must finally pass the compromise bill.

If the two chambers agree on a final version of a bill, and successfully vote to pass it before the last day of session, it goes to the Governor for his or her signature.

The Governor can either sign it into law, veto all or parts of it, or do nothing, resulting in passage into law.