How A Bill Becomes Law
- Annotated from the Texas House of Representatives Website
The Legislative Branch of Government
The Texas Constitution divides state government into three separate but equal branches: the executive branch, headed by the governor; the judicial branch, which consists of the Texas Supreme Court and all state courts; and the legislative branch, headed by the Texas Legislature, which includes the 150 members of the house of representatives and the 31 members of the state senate.
Members of the house of representatives are elected to two-year terms and represent districts of about 113,000 people each. Senators serve four-year terms and serve about 550,000 people each.
The legislature meets every odd-numbered year to write new laws and to find solutions to the problems facing the state. This meeting time, which begins on the second Tuesday in January and lasts 140 days, is called the regular session. The governor can direct the legislature to meet at other times also. These meetings, called special sessions, can last no more than 30 days and deal only with issues chosen by the governor.
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 rules on procedural matters.
In the senate, the presiding officer is the lieutenant governor, who is not actually a member of the senate. The lieutenant governor is the second-highest ranking officer of the executive branch of government and, like the governor, is chosen for a four-year term by popular vote in a statewide election.
Introducing a Bill
Once a bill has been written by a Representative of Senator, it is introduced by a member of the house or senate in the member"s own chamber. Sometimes, similar bills about a particular issue are 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.
House members and senators can introduce bills on any subject during the first 60 calendar days of a regular session. After 60 days, the introduction of any bill other than a local bill or a bill related to an emergency declared by the governor requires the consent of at least four-fifths of the members present and voting in the house or four-fifths of the membership in the senate.
After a bill has been introduced, a short description of the bill, called a caption, is read aloud while the chamber is in session so that all of the members are aware of the bill and its subject. This is called the first reading, and it is the point in the process where the presiding officer assigns the bill to a committee. This assignment is announced on the chamber floor during the first reading of the bill.
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: (1) in a public hearing where testimony is heard and where official action may be taken on bills, resolutions, or other matters; (2) in a formal meeting where the members may discuss and take official action without hearing public testimony; or (3) in a work session for discussion of matters before the committee without taking formal action. In the senate, testimony may be heard and official action may be taken at any meeting of a senate committee or subcommittee.
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 is then printed, and a copy is distributed to every member of the house or senate.
When a bill comes up for consideration by the full house or senate, it receives its second reading. The bill is read, again by caption only, and 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.
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. When the bill is passed in the opposite house, it is returned to the originating chamber with any amendments that have been adopted simply attached to the bill.
If a bill is returned to the originating chamber without amendments, it is put in final form, signed by the speaker and lieutenant governor, and sent to the governor.
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. If the governor neither vetoes nor signs the bill within 10 days, the bill becomes a law. If a bill is sent to the governor within 10 days of final adjournment, the governor has until 20 days after final adjournment to sign the bill, veto it, or allow it to become law without a signature.