A useful and amazingly nimble website maintained by the State of Texas empowers anyone to monitor proposed bills pending in the Texas Legislature.
Texas Legislature Online, www.capitol.state.tx.us, is available to all without charge and is as comprehensive and dependable as expensive online services used by lobbyists, law firms, activists, reporters and state associations. With a little practice, you can become your own legislative analyst, keep your organization up to date with developments in Austin during the session, and impress your friends and associates with your current and deep knowledge of legislative matters.
Texas Legislature Online includes these features:
- Bill text: Review the actual language of a proposed House or Senate bill and follow its evolution during the 140-day regular session legislative process.
- Subject matter: Do a word/phrase search of all pending bills to identify legislation in a subject area of interest to you. A statute search reveals the specific provisions of the Texas law or administrative codes that a bill will change.
- Bill status: Whether a bill is “moving” or not says a lot about its prospects for passage before the end of the session. A bill must move through committees of both houses, receive a favorable floor vote in House and Senate, be reconsidered if the two versions are not identical, and be signed by the Governor to become law.
- Committees: This is where the initial hands-on work is done, and a bill’s prospects are often revealed by its initial reception at a committee hearing. Names of persons testifying for or against a bill at a hearing can be accessed online. Testimony is often received on a number of bills with the committee vote on all the day’s bills left to the end of the meeting, or the bills are often “left pending” for a vote on another day. In the 2013 session, 53 percent of all bills died in the committee of the originating house.
- Amendments or substitute bills: Amendments to bills or “substitute” bills can be the real game because they can be longer and more comprehensive than the bill as originally filed. The online service permits you to read the text of these changes but, unfortunately, often not until after they are submitted by a member at a hearing or have already been voted on.
- Calendars: Texas Legislature Online permits you to review agenda postings of lists of bills set for committee hearings and the coming calendars for House and Senate floor votes. A bill that repeatedly is not listed has little prospect of passage and may be “killed by the clock” as various parliamentary deadlines pass.
- Background and research: The “Reports” function will yield copies of analyses by committee staff members, the Texas Legislative Council, or a “fiscal note” predicting the possible costs of the legislation by the Legislative Budget Board.
- Appropriations bill and state budget: Surfing the state’s proposed biennial budget that will become the General Appropriations Act for the 2016-17 biennium is not for the novice, so don’t try it alone at home! Drafting the 1,000 page document has been underway for months by legislative interim committees, the Legislative Budget Board and Comptroller. Tracking appropriations and spending is a whole different quest than following public policy legislation and is not discussed further here.
Best of all are the online broadcasts of committee hearings and House and Senate floor sessions. There is no substitute for watching or hearing the actual proceedings, although these rituals can appear tedious to the uninitiated. While monitoring these long broadcasts, consider assembling a model aircraft carrier kit, cooking the next month’s meals for the freezer, writing a short novel or exploring the benefits of office chair aerobic exercises.
Good news: Generally, less than 25 percent of all bills filed will pass in some form. With a new quicker e-filing system underway by the House of Representatives clerk, it is expected that there will be more bills filed than during past sessions. More than 6,000 bills are expected from elected representatives and senators. There is always a frantic surge of last-minute filings by the “60th day” deadline (March 13). With that volume of legislation in play until the June 1 adjournment, someone will be watching each particular bill for some particular reason—and that can include you.
Additional Texas legislative research resources:
Texas Legislative Council, www.tlc.state.tx.us
Legislative Reference Library, www.lrl.state.tx.us
Legislative Budget Board, www.lbb.state.tx.us
Comptroller of Public Accounts, www.window.state.tx.us
by Richard Meyer