A quorum is the minimum number of members of a legislative chamber (or another assembly) that must be present at a meeting for the proceedings of that meeting to be considered valid.
The Texas Constitution of 1876 established a high quorum requirement for the Texas legislature: at least two-thirds (2/3) of the membership of the Texas House of Representatives (100 out of 150 members) or the Texas Senate (21 out of 31 members) must be present in order for the chamber to conduct business. Because of our high quorum requirement, the absence of a minority of members in one or both chambers can bring the legislative process to a grinding halt. During the 12th Legislature, which met from 1870-1871 (Radical Reconstruction era), several Democratic state senators left Texas to prevent a quorum in the Republican-controlled legislature. This ultimately led to “the arrest of senators by the Senate and the forcible return of enough to make a quorum” (May, n.d.).
How a Bill Becomes a Law in Texas
Introduction & Referral
“Only a legislator may introduce a bill into the legislative process, although the idea for a bill may originate from a source other than the legislator, such as an interested outside party or the findings of a committee study” (Texas Legislative Council, 2021). Bills that are introduced in the first 60 days of a regular session are subject to the two-thirds quorum described above; after 60 days, a four-fifths quorum is required to introduce a bill. When being introduced, the bill is read aloud. It is then assigned a number (ex: HB1) and referred to a committee by the presiding officer.
After a bill has been referred to a committee, the committee will hold meetings and hearings on the bill. During this process, the bill may go through mark up, or the process of revising, amending, or rewriting a proposed law. After considering a bill, the committee can:
- take no action
- issue an unfavorable report
- issue a favorable report recommending passage as is, recommending amendments, or providing a substitute bill
Committee chairs can significantly influence the outcome of a bill through their control of the committee’s agenda, schedule of hearings, witnesses to be called, and voting schedule.
Sometimes, a committee will pigeonhole a bill by choosing not to consider it. When this occurs, a legislator can bring forth a discharge petition to force the committee chairperson to bring the bill up to a vote in the committee (and, if it receives a majority vote, it will proceed to the floor). A discharge petition requires signatures of two-thirds of the members of the Texas House of Representatives (100) or Senate (21) within the first 76 days of the regular session; after 76 days, only a majority of signatures are needed (76 in the Texas House; 16 in the Senate).
Senate rules allow “any member of the Senate a right to request at least 48 hours written notice of the time and place set for a public hearing on a specific bill” (Rodriguez, 2017), which in effect allows a single state senator to delay a bill’s consideration or even halt a bill from moving further through the legislative process.
The process by which a bill moves from a committee to the floor differs in the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas Senate:
In the Texas House, measures recommended favorably by committee go to the House Calendars Committee for assignment to one of the House calendars, which sets the order of priority for consideration on the floor. In the Texas Senate, measures recommended favorably go to the Senate Calendar of Bills, which sets the order of priority for consideration on the floor; senate rules require bills and resolutions be considered in the order in which committee reports on the measures are submitted to the Senate.
Because our Texas legislature’s regular session only lasts for 140 days, many of the bills that end up on calendars will not be considered by the full chamber; the higher the bill’s priority for consideration, the sooner it is scheduled to be brought to the floor — and the more likely it will actually make it to the floor.
In order to bring up a bill or resolution prior to its scheduled order in the Texas Senate, a senator may give notice of intent, which places the measure on the Intent Calendar. The Texas Senate routinely considers only a portion of the items listed on the Intent Calendar; if not considered, a senator must give notice of intent every day they wish for the bill or resolution to remain on the Intent Calendar. State senators are limited when it comes to notices of intent: they can give notice of intent on no more than three items before April 15 and no more than five items on or after April 15.
Once a bill has made it to the floor, it is read for the second time. The bill is then debated on its merits. In the Texas House of Representatives, the debate is limited by House rules. Debates in the Senate vary greatly due to the filibuster, which differs slightly from the filibuster used in the U.S. Senate: in the Texas Senate, unlike in the U.S. Senate, no more than one senator may filibuster any given bill, and a cloture motion to force a vote is not an option. During the debate, the bill may be amended to facilitate passage or to incorporate items from other bills that likely will not reach the floor.
Once the debate has ended, the chamber will take a floor vote. At least one day after floor passage, the bill is read aloud for the third time.
For a bill to be sent to the governor for action, it must be passed in identical form by both chambers of the Texas Legislature; however, bills passed by the Texas House and Texas Senate often contain differences, even if they were identical when introduced, due to changes being made while in committee and/or on the floor. This is where conference committees come into play. Conference committees, which are composed of five members of each chamber (who are appointed by the presiding officers of that chamber) negotiate differences between bills passed by the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas Senate.
Once a bill reaches the Governor’s Office, the governor may:
- sign the bill into law
- exercise the line-item veto to strike out specific sections or items on an appropriations (i.e., spending) bill while signing the rest of the bill into law
- veto the bill, which prevents the bill from becoming law unless the veto is overridden by a two-thirds vote in both chambers (very rarely is a veto successfully overridden)
- take no action, in which case the bill becomes law:
- after 10 days, if the legislature is still in session
- after 20 days, if the bill is given to the governor during the last 10 days of the regular session
Legislative Process: Other Key Players
There are several actors involved in the legislative process that were not referenced in preceding discussion, including:
- the Comptroller of Public Accounts, which is an office in the plural executive that is responsible for, among other things, certifying revenue projections (and, according to our state’s balanced budget requirement, the state government cannot appropriate more money than it makes in revenue through taxes and fees)
- the media, which can engage in legislative agenda-setting by drawing the public’s attention to particular bills
- courts, which can declare state laws unconstitutional
- lobbyists and special interests, which gain influence by donating campaign funds and providing information to legislators during the legislative process
- the public, who elect state legislators to represent their interests (and have the ability to hold state legislators accountable for their actions through elections) and can provide input by contacting their legislators’ offices