April 9, 2021
A Game of Deadlines in the Texas Legislature
833 Words, a 3-Minute Read
The Texas Legislature’s 140-day session is designed to pass as little legislation as possible:
- It only meets in odd years from January until Memorial Day, and the bulk of the work is accomplished in March and April.
- Bills have to meet a number of deadlines in the House and Senate, and it is those deadlines that ultimately kill thousands of bills.
- Lawmakers and lobbyists have tools that they can use to slow down bills in the House so that the bills can fail to meet the deadlines.
Few deadlines exist in the Senate. But the House contains a number of deadlines and hurdles that result in the death of many bills.
These deadlines are viewed as the “tip of the iceberg.”
March 12, 2021 – The deadline to file bills in both the House and Senate.
April 29, 2021 – A House bill needs to be voted out of its House committee by this date.
May 7, 2021 – A House bill needs to be voted out of committee on this date to have a chance to be printed and reported to the Calendars Committee so that it can be scheduled for a vote on the May 10 general calendar in the full House.
May 13, 2021 – A House bill needs to receive its “second reading” on the House general calendar. Once the clock strikes midnight, the remaining bills on the calendar that have not received a vote will die.
May 25, 2021 – The last day for the House to consider the “second reading” of Senate bills on the daily or supplemental calendar.
Tools for Slowing Bills
It is said that 90 percent of the iceberg remains unseen below the surface, and the Texas Legislature contains a number of “invisible” forces that can delay and kill bills behind the scenes.
In Washington, the U.S. Senate is viewed as the body with the tools necessary (filibuster, 60-vote requirement, etc.) to slow down the legislative process. In Austin, it is actually the Texas House that contains the tools to slow down bills.
Bill Referrals – Once a bill is introduced in the House, it eventually has to be referred to a committee. It cannot be heard in a committee until it has been referred, and that can take time.
Delayed Committee Hearings and Committee Votes – Every day matters in the Legislature, and the ability to delay a bill’s committee hearing by a week or two can dramatically decrease its chance to pass. Bills that receive their initial committee hearings in the House in March have plenty of time to go through all of the necessary steps: bill hearing, committee vote, etc. But if a bill’s preliminary committee vote is delayed until the second week of April or later, the timeline becomes far more challenging.
The committee will typically vote on a bill in the week after the committee hearing. A delayed committee vote can add another obstacle.
Local & Consent Committee vs. Calendars Committee – Once a bill clears a committee in the House, it must pass through a second committee before it can go to the full floor for consideration: the Local & Consent Committee or the Calendars Committee.
A bill that does not face any opposition in the committee vote will typically go to the Local & Consent Committee, which can set the bill in a faster manner. A bill that faces some opposition in the committee vote, such as just one “no” vote, will go to the House Calendars Committee, which is a much slower process.
Members of the House Calendars Committee have the ability to secretly “tag” a bill, which delays it for consideration in the House Calendars Committee for at least a few days. If a bill eventually makes it out of the House Calendars Committee, it’s up to the committee to set the day that the bill will be considered on the House floor’s General Calendar.
Procedural Problems – Once a bill reaches a floor, opponents will “scrub it clean” to find points of order. Citations in the bill may be wrong, the committee clerk put the wrong date on the committee report, clerks posted hearings in the wrong way or the wrong rule-making was cited.
If an opponent is successful and a point of order is sustained on the House floor, a bill on the General Calendar can be knocked off of the calendar for several days. But a bill on the Local & Consent Calendar has to be approached with great caution: If It gets pulled due to a point of order or other procedural problem, it can be knocked off of the calendar for quite a few days. For many bills in the month of May, the point of order leads to their death.
Midnight Strikes: The Final House Calendar – Once the clock strikes midnight on a specific day in May, every bill on the calendar that has yet to be heard will die.
From a strategic standpoint, House leadership may place controversial bills at the end of the calendar because the odds are high that the House will not make it that far down the calendar.
The opposition may also spot a bill that they do not like and “chub” on the House floor to slow down the process. Chubbing is the House’s version of a Senate filibuster.
Other Bills: Dozens of Them
Click here to view TOA's bill tracker, which tracks the dozens of bills that relate to orthopaedics.
Click here to view TOA's musculoskeletal primer for state lawmakers.