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Texas Legislature by R. Scott Alagood

This new Year brings with it new Texas legislature. The Texas legislature meets every other year in odd numbered years to enact, repeal, or modify the laws of the state. The 85th Texas Legislature began on January 10, 2017, and will remain in regular session for the following 140 days. Following the regular session, the governor, Greg Abbott, may call for special sessions lasting no more than 30 days each.

Like the federal government, Texas government is divided into three separate but equal branches: executive (governor and state agencies), judicial (Texas Supreme Court and state courts), and legislative. The legislative branch in Texas is further divided between the house of representatives and the senate. Members of the house are elected to two-year terms. Senators are elected to four-year terms. There are 150 members of the house and 31 members of the senate. A single house member will represent a district of approximately 167,500 people. A single senate member will represent a district of approximately 811,000 people.

Generally, a bill may be introduced either in the house or the senate. However, a bill increasing taxes must begin in the house. Regardless of which legislative chamber a bill originates, its passage is governed by the same general procedure. Bill filings take place during the first 60 days of the regular session. After that date, only certain special bills may be filed if consented to by at least 3/4ths of the members present and voting in the house or at least 4/5ths of the members present and voting in the senate. Following the introduction of a bill, it must go through and pass the committee process. Both the house and senate each have their own rules which govern the committee process. Both the house and senate each have their own rules which govern the committee process. The public’s input through testimony is generally provided during this process.

Following the consideration of a bill, the committee may either take no action or provide a report on the bill. If no action is taken, the bill is then said to have “died in committee.” A committee report sets forth the committee’s recommendations for the bill, the committee’s vote on the report, the text of the bill, detailed bill analysis, and may include a note on any monetary or other effects the bill may have if enacted into law. If a bill has not died in committee, then it is placed on an appropriate calendar for consideration by the originating chamber. Each legislative chamber has their own calendaring rules and procedures.

Once a bill comes before the house or senate for consideration, it is read before the full body of the legislative chamber and then debated for passage. It is during this process that amendments to the bill may be proffered. However, amendments may only be adopted by a majority vote of the members present and voting. The members will then vote on whether to pass the bill or not. Any amendment proffered during a vote on final passage may only be adopted by a 2/3rds majority vote. Each chamber has its own specific rules which may revise the exact procedure for a vote on a particular bill. Generally, a bill will pass upon a majority vote of the chamber members.

Once a bill has passed either the house or senate, it will be sent to the other chamber to go through the same process. If the bill is passed in the other chamber, then it is returned to the originating chamber to be finalized and sent to the governor. If any amendments have been adopted in the other chamber, the originating chamber can either agree to those amendments or request a conference committee to work through any differences in the final language of the bill. If agreement is reached in the conference committee, then the bill is sent to the governor’s office for signature.

Once received, the governor has 10 days to sign, veto, or do nothing with the bill. If the bill is signed, it becomes law. If the governor vetoes the bill and the legislature is still in session, then the bill goes back to the originating chamber and the governor’s veto may be overridden by a 2/3rds vote of both the house and senate. If the governor fails to sign or veto the bill, then after the 10 days has passed, the bill becomes law. Other rules govern the passage of constitutional amendments.

The public can track bills through this process at the Texas Legislature Online, http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/. Know your federal and state representatives, http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/. Vote, it matters.

Information obtained for this article was taken from http://www.house.state.tx.us/about-us/bill.

R. Scott Alagood is board certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in Commercial and Residential Real Estate Law and can be reached at [email protected] and www.dentonlaw.com.