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How Bills Become Laws

March 23, 2023- The Texas Constitution divides the state government into three separate but equal branches, these branches are:

  • Executive branch, headed by the Governor.
  • Judicial branch, consisting of the Texas Supreme Court and all state courts.
  • Legislative branch, headed by the Texas Legislature consisting of 150 members of the house of representatives and 31 members of the state senate.

Members of the house of representatives are elected to two-year terms and represent districts of about 167,500 people each. Senators serve four-year terms and serve about 811,000 people each.

The legislature meets every two years on odd- numbered years to write new laws and to find solutions to problems that may be face within the state. This meeting time, which begins on the second Tuesday in January and lasts 140 days, is called the regular session. However, the governor can direct the legislature to meet at other times as well.

On the first day of each regular session, the 150 members of the house of representatives choose one of their members to be the speaker of the house. The speaker is the presiding officer of the house. He or she maintains order, recognizes members to speak during debate, and rule on procedural matters.

Introducing A Bill

A representative or senator gets an idea for a bill by listening to the people he or she represents and then working to solve their problem. The idea is researched to determine what state law needs to be changed or created to best solve that problem.

Once a bill has been written, it is introduced by a member of the house or senate in the member’s own chamber. However, there are instances where their are similar bills about a certain issue that may introduced in both houses at the same time by a representative and senator working together. However, any bill increasing taxes or raising money for use by the state must start in the house of representatives.

After the introduction of a bill, a short description of said bill, also known as a caption, is read aloud while the chamber is in session so that all members are aware of the bill and its subject. This is called a first reading, and it is the point in the process where the presiding officer assigns the bill to a committee.

The Committee Process

The chair of each committee decides when the committee will meet and which bills will be considered. The house rules permit a house committee or subcommittee to meet:

  • In a public hearing where testimony is heard and where official action may be taken on bills, resolutions, or other matters;
  • In a formal meeting where the members may discuss and take official action without hearing public testimony
  • In a work session for discussion of matters before the committee without taking formal action.

After considering a bill, a committee may choose to take no action or may issue a report on the bill. The committee report, expressing the committee’s recommendations regarding action on a bill, includes a record of the committee’s vote on the report, the text of the bill as reported by the committee, a detailed bill analysis, and a fiscal note or other impact statement, as necessary. The report is then printed, and a copy is distributed to every member of the house or senate.

Floor Action

When a bill come up for consideration by the house or senate, it receives a second hearing. The bill is read, again by caption only, and is then debated by the full membership of the chamber.  Any member may offer an amendment, but it must be approved by a majority of the members present and voting to be adopted. The members then vote on whether to pass the bill. The bill is then considered by the full body again on third reading and final passage.

In either house, a bill may be passed on a voice vote or a record vote. In the house, record votes are tallied by an electronic vote board controlled by buttons on each member’s desk. In the senate, record votes are taken by calling the roll of the members.

If a bill receives a majority vote on third reading, it is considered passed. When a bill is passed in the house where it originated, the bill is engrossed, and a new copy of the bill which incorporates all corrections and amendments is prepared and sent to the opposite chamber for consideration. In the second house, the bill follows basically the same steps it followed in the first house.

Governor’s Action

Upon receiving a bill, the governor has 10 days in which to sign the bill, veto it, or allow it to become law without a signature. If the governor vetoes the bill and the legislature is still in session, the bill is returned to the house in which it originated with an explanation of the governor’s objections. A two-thirds majority in each house is required to override the veto.

Constitutional Amendments

Proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution are in the form of joint resolutions instead of bills and require a vote of two-thirds of the entire membership in each house for adoption. Joint resolutions are not sent to the governor for approval, but are filed directly with the secretary of state. A joint resolution proposing an amendment to the Texas Constitution does not become effective until it is approved by Texas voters in a general election.

Author: Ethan Klein

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