Understanding and Getting Involved
in the Legislative Session
The goal of grassroots lobbying is to form working relationships with elected officials so you can influence their decisions and, ultimately, legislation. Grassroots lobbying can be accomplished through many different activities
that range from meeting with legislators to writing letters to attending town hall meetings.
The session is definitely the most exciting time in the political calendar, so it is an excellent
time to become politically involved and encourage others to do so. The best times to get involved
during the session are indicated by a pointing finger icon on the
Basic Steps in the Texas Legislative
Process flow chart(PDF).
on the Texas Legislature
- The Legislature meets every odd-numbered year (i.e., 2007) for 140 days, beginning on the second Tuesday in January.
- The Legislature is bicameral, which means it has two houses or chambers:
The Senate is composed of 31 senators, each of whom represent about 672,000 citizens. The House of Representatives is composed of 150 representatives, each of whom represent about 139,000 citizens.
- House members are elected for two-year terms while senators serve four-year terms.
- Legislators earn an annual salary of $7,200.
- The lieutenant governor, who is elected statewide, presides over the Senate.
The Speaker of the House, who is one of 150 locally elected representatives, is elected by his peers in the House.
What is a bill?
A bill is a proposal to change or add to state law. During each legislative session, legislators file
thousands of bills on hundreds of subjects. However, only about one-third of those bills complete the
legislative process and become law.
The ideas for bills come from a variety of sources. Constituents, or the people living in
legislators’ districts, are often the impetus for legislation without even knowing it. When a constituent seeks help
from a legislator, sometimes the only solution to the constituent’s problem requires a change in state law. This can result in that legislator filing a bill to make the necessary changes. Interest groups such as ATPE can also influence legislation by finding legislators who share the groups’ positions on certain issues and asking them to file bills on their behalf.
How does a bill become law?
- Access a list of bills filed daily at
www.capitol.state.tx.us. Bills are listed by number and
caption. Click on the bill’s link to read the entire bill. The ATPE website also has information
on education-related bills.
- Once a bill has been introduced, sign up for the Texas Legislature’s Bill Alert service at
www.capitol.state.tx.us/tlo/legislation/login.htm. By doing so, you’ll receive e-mail notification
when action is taken on the bills you select to watch.
- The ATPE Legislative Alert Network (LAN) is the best way to stay informed of legislative
actions. Encourage members to join the LAN and take advantage of this useful member benefit. When
using the LAN, be mindful of district e-mail policies and the guidelines for political
A bill’s introduction
The first step of a bill’s journey through the legislative maze is filing. A bill is
considered filed or introduced when a representative or senator
submits it to the chief clerk in the House or the secretary of the Senate. When the clerk or secretary receives the bill, it is given a prefix. The prefix is
HB (House Bill) if filed in the House or SB (Senate Bill) if filed in the Senate.
All bills also receive numbers, which are assigned in chronological order. A bill keeps the same prefix and number throughout the session regardless of which legislative chamber is considering it. Each
bill also has a caption that begins with the words “relating to,” which summarizes the subject of the bill. Sometimes the same bill is filed in both the House and Senate to increase its chances of completing the process and becoming law. These identical bills are called companion bills.
Legislators have a four-month window to file bills. The Monday after the general election in November begins the pre-filing period in which legislators can file bills before the session begins in January. They can file bills until midnight on the second Friday in March, which is usually the midpoint for the session.
First reading and referral
Every bill must be read three times in each chamber. The first reading occurs when the bill is introduced. At that time, the clerk or secretary reads the bill’s prefix, number and the name of the legislative
committee to which it has been referred. All filed bills receive a first reading in their chamber of origin.
When a bill has been referred to a committee, you
can immediately start a letter-writing campaign to support or oppose it. It’s never too early to communicate when issues are important to you! See page 17 for letter-writing tips, and remember: The best constituent
letters give the legislator your local spin. Tell him how the bill will positively or negatively affect you, and ask him to do something specific (e.g., please support HB 206).
The speaker and lieutenant governor have the authority to appoint committees of legislators. Each committee has jurisdiction and oversight of bills relating to a certain subject. Bills are referred to the committees that work on the issues affected by the bills. For example, the House Public Education Committee has oversight of bills relating to
The committees hold public hearings only on the bills they would like to advance through the process. The decision of when or whether to hear a bill in committee is left to the sole discretion of the
committee chairman, giving him significant power. The chairman can also hold a hearing on a bill but refuse to call for a vote. If a bill doesn’t receive a hearing, receives a hearing but doesn’t get the
necessary majority vote, or if a vote is never held, it is said to have died in committee.
If a bill receives a hearing, the committee notifies the rest of the Legislature as well as the public to provide an opportunity for people to offer input on
the bill. At the hearing, the legislator who filed the bill explains what it does and why it was filed, then the committee hears testimony.
your voice heard
|The committee hearing is your best chance to influence changes to a bill. If a
bill you’re interested in is scheduled for a hearing, write (or call, if time is short) your representative, senator and/or committee members and relay your support or
concerns. Or to really get your voice heard, testify at the committee hearing. There is
a good chance that your ATPE lobbyists also plan to testify. To come to Austin to give your input,
contact ATPE Governmental Relations.
Committee members ask questions about and make changes to the bill. These changes can be in the form of amendments, which usually involve small changes, or a committee substitute, which replaces the entire bill with a new bill. Both amendments and committee substitutes have to be made according to certain rules so that the intent of the bill is not changed and to avoid adding irrelevant topics to it.
Before a bill can be voted on in committee, it must have a bill analysis and a fiscal note prepared by a state agency. The bill analysis is a document prepared by Senate Research or
the House committee hearing the bill that explains the changes the bill will have on state law, its background and sometimes even the history
of the issue. The fiscal note is prepared by the Legislative Budget Board and is an estimate of the cost the state will incur during the 10 years after the bill’s passage. A large fiscal note is often the reason a bill dies in committee.
A bill must receive approval from a majority of the committee to move forward in the process. An approved bill is placed on the calendar for second reading and debate on the appropriate chamber’s floor. However, the processes for scheduling floor debates differ in the House and Senate.
All bills approved by a House committee are sent to the House Calendars Committee. The 11
representatives on that committee schedule bills for floor debate. If one or more members of that
committee have a problem with a particular bill, they may choose not to schedule it. For that reason, the Calendars Committee is another possible place
for a bill to die.
In the Senate, all bills referred from committee are placed on a list called the “Senate Intent Calendar.” Any bill on the list can be brought up for discussion if two-thirds of all senators present vote to consider it. The two-thirds rule is often a stumbling block for
legislation in the Senate.
Each chamber also has an additional calendar for local and non-controversial bills. In the House it’s called the Local and Consent Calendar; in the Senate it’s called the Local and Uncontested Calendar. If
a bill is truly local, meaning it only affects one government, or if a bill doesn’t have any opposition, a committee can recommend that it be placed on the local calendar, and its passage is often guaranteed.
Second reading and floor debate
A bill receives its second reading once it has been approved by the committee for floor debate and has made it onto the calendar. Second reading is the first time the entire House or Senate, depending on where the bill was filed, has the opportunity to debate the bill’s merits and vote on it.
A bill debated on the floor on second reading can be amended an unlimited number of times by a majority vote of the chamber. Once a vote is taken, and the bill receives approval from a majority of
the legislators in that chamber, it progresses to its third reading. (A bill calling for a constitutional amendment requires approval from two-thirds of
the legislators in each chamber.)
However, hundreds of bills never make it to floor debate. They often come up as amendments to other bills later in the process or die on the calendar because time for floor debate is limited. There are simply too many bills on the calendar to give each one floor time, and often the more controversial bills are debated for hours.
chance for input
|If you haven’t contacted your legislators on a bill by the time it has its second reading in either chamber, you need to call them ASAP! If you have written a letter, follow up with a phone call. Remind your
legislators you sent letters (and appreciated their responses if you received them), but
you noticed the bill was going to be on the floor so you want to reiterate your support
These calls will serve as friendly reminders of your letters and will give legislative staff notice about the bill going on the floor. Often, dozens of bills are scheduled for the calendar on any day, so your legislators’ staffs might overlook your bill.
Third reading and floor debate
On third reading, the entire legislative chamber votes on a bill for the second time. This is the last opportunity for legislators in the bill’s chamber of
origin to vote on the bill before it is sent to the other chamber to start the process over again. This is why
third reading is referred to as final passage.
Legislators can amend the few bills that do make it to third reading, but amendments are rare at this point because they require approval from two-thirds of the legislators in the chamber. In fact, third reading is usually a formality because most bills that pass
second reading also pass third reading. A bill that does pass third reading is printed with all the changes made to it up to that point. This is referred
to as the engrossed version.
|The Internet is a great resource for monitoring bills as they are filed. You can access a list of bills filed daily at www.capitol.state.tx.us. The bills are listed by number and caption, and by clicking on the link you can read the entire bill. ATPE’s website
also has great information on filed education bills.
The engrossed version is then sent to the other legislative chamber, where it will begin the same process. It will have a first reading, committee review, hearing and debate on second and third readings.
The second chamber can also amend bills, so often the versions of bills that are actually passed look
very different from the version the original chamber approved.
When the second chamber makes changes to a bill, the original chamber has two options: agree to accept the changes, which is called “concurring with
amendments,” or request that a conference committee be appointed to reconcile the differences between
the two versions of the bill. If the original chamber concurs with the amendments, the bill is sent to
the governor. If the original chamber requests a conference committee, each chamber appoints five legislators to meet and compromise on the differences between the two versions of the bill. Once the conference committee has reached an agreement, both chambers vote to approve the compromise and then send the bill to the governor.
If a bill you’re interested in is in conference committee, contact the committee members to provide your input. Do this right away because conference committees usually do not hold formal meetings, and compromises are usually agreed on fairly quickly.
Once a bill reaches his desk, the governor has several options. He can sign the bill, giving it his approval and making it law. He can veto the bill, which effectively kills it unless the Legislature is
still in session and two-thirds of its members vote to override the governor’s veto. The governor’s third option is to let the bill become law without his
signature. This usually signals the governor is not completely in agreement with the bill but is not opposed to it enough for a veto.
Most bills become law on Sept. 1 of the year in which they are approved or 90 days after they
receive the governor’s approval. In some cases, the Legislature takes a special vote to make a bill become law immediately after the governor signs it
or on a specified date designated in the bill.
Many bills require that new rules be adopted to implement them or to establish guidelines for Texans. State agencies are charged with the task of adopting rules for legislation and use the year and a half between sessions to collect input from around the state on how to write the rules. After collecting
various opinions on rules, agencies adopt the rules, which effectively become part of the law. (See
Understanding and Getting Involved in
the Interim for a full description of the state agency process.)
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