Lawmaking in the Lone Star State

Quorum Requirement

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.

Committee Action

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.

Floor Action

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.

Conference Committee

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.

Governor Action

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

Texas Legislature: Organization


Both chambers of the Texas Legislature have several committees, where most legislative work takes place.

There are five different types of committees in the Texas Legislature:

  • Standing committees (also known as substantive committees) are permanent committees established to handle legislation in a certain field.  Standing committees range in size from 5 to 29 members in the Texas House of Representatives and 5 to 15 members in the Texas Senate.  Rules limit legislators to serving on no more than three standing committees during one session.
  • Interim committees are established to study a particular policy issue between regular sessions; their findings are reported to the chamber during the next legislative session.
  • Select committees are ad hoc committees established for a limited period of time to address a specific problem.
  • Procedural committees are committees that deal with internal operations (like scheduling legislation to go to the floor).
  • Conference committees are temporary committees that are formed to negotiate differences on similar pieces of legislation passed by the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas Senate.

Each committee is overseen by a committee chair and committee vice-chair, which are appointed by the chamber’s presiding officers (thereby strengthening the positions of the presiding officers).

Some initial committee appointments are based on expertise that comes from a legislator’s occupational background; this may create a conflict of interest.  Once appointed to a committee, state legislators usually return to the same committee positions each session they serve in the Texas Legislature; this enables them to become well informed on a given subject.


Each chamber of the Texas Legislature has a presiding officer that oversees operations within that chamber.  The presiding officers have several powers that cause them to be influential actors in the legislative process, including:

  • appointing all committee chairs and vice-chairs
  • appointing half of the members of substantive committees
  • appointing all members of conference committees
  • recognizing (or choosing not to recognize) members who wish to speak on the floor

Speaker of the House

Seal of the Texas House of RepresentativesThe presiding officer of the Texas House of Representatives is the Speaker of the House.  The Speaker of the House is a member of the Texas House of Representatives (elected by a single-member district) who is chosen to preside over the chamber via majority vote within the Texas House of Representatives at the beginning of a regular session.  As a member of the Texas House of Representatives, the Speaker of the House exercises powers associated with serving as presiding officer and votes on bills.

Lieutenant Governor

Seal of the Texas Senate

The presiding officer of the Texas Senate is the Lieutenant Governor.  Unlike the Speaker of the House, which is a member of the Texas Legislature and chosen by the chamber’s membership, the Lieutenant Governor is not a member of the Texas Senate; it is part of our plural executive.  As such, the Lieutenant Governor is chosen by majority vote in a statewide election every four years (not the Senate membership), and the Lieutenant Governor cannot vote on bills except in the case of a tie.  The Lieutenant Governor is considered the most powerful Texas state office and is regarded as a major force in state politics and a dominant figure during legislative sessions.

“No-Party” System

Throughout most of our state’s history, Texas has been a one-party state.  The Democratic Party held the majority in both chambers of the Texas Legislature and controlled most executive positions through the second half of the 1800s until the late 1900s (with the exception of Radical Reconstruction, when the Republican Party briefly took control of state government), at which point in time control shifted to the Republican Party.

Nevertheless, when it comes to the Texas Legislature, each chamber has traditionally been organized largely on the basis of ideology, not party affiliation.  Although the Texas Legislature is becoming increasingly partisan, ideology continues to be of more significance, which is reflected by the organization of our legislative chambers (presiding officers routinely select committee chairs and vice-chairs from both parties, not just their own party) and in the way our legislative process works.

Texas Legislature: Powers

Our Texas legislature is one “of granted rather than plenary powers” (May, n.d.).  This means that the Texas Constitution of 1876 specifically outlines the powers of the Texas Legislature — and the Texas Legislature only has those powers that are specifically granted to it.  The powers of the Texas Legislature fall into two categories: legislative and non-legislative.

Legislative Powers

The Texas Legislature is given the authority to propose and vote on:

  • bills (proposed laws)
  • resolutions (statements of opinion on a matter), and and
  • joint resolutions (legislative documents that either propose an amendment to the Texas Constitution that voters may choose to ratify at the ballot box or ratify amendments to the U.S. Constitution)

NOTE:  Joint resolutions require approval in the form of a 2/3 vote in favor of them in both legislative chambers.  This applies to both joint resolutions that are proposing amendments to the Texas Constitution and those ratifying amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Non-Legislative Powers

The Texas Legislature has constituent (or amendment) powers: it ratifies amendments to the U.S. Constitution on behalf of our state and proposes amendments to the Texas Constitution.

The Texas Legislature also has electoral powers.  The Texas House of Representatives makes the official declaration of a winner in state executive elections.  The Texas Legislature was also given authority to settle election disputes, when necessary.

The Texas Legislature has investigative powers: there are legislative committees (such as the House General Investigating Committee and, at times, interim or select committees) that have jurisdiction over state bureaucratic agencies.

As we will discuss more when we look at the state plural executive and bureaucracy, the Texas Legislature has administrative powers – in particular, it has the responsibility to engage in legislative oversight of the bureaucratic agencies that it creates to implement and administer state laws.  Committees can hold hearings to see whether bureaucrats are carrying out public policy as intended.  There are several factors, however, that make it difficult for the Texas Legislature to fully exercise these administrative powers, including the short regular session, the movement of members from one committee to another, and the shorter term of legislators compared to that of executive officials.

The Texas Legislature is also granted the judicial power of impeachment (similar to the U.S. Congress).  The Texas House of Representatives can bring articles of impeachment against state judicial and executive officials.  Once the Texas House of Representatives passes articles of impeachment, the Texas Senate holds the trial and determines whether to convict and remove a state executive or judicial official from office.

Texas Legislature: “Pale, Male, and Stale”

The Texas Legislature has been described as “pale, male, and stale.”  When we look at the 87th Legislature (2021-2022):

  • 61% of state legislators are white
  • 73% of state legislators are male

“Representation is more lopsided when broken down by political party.  Almost all Republicans in the Legislature are white” (Ura and Astudillo, 2021) – and the Republican party holds the majority of seats in both chambers.

Party affiliation of members within the Texas Legislature
Party affiliation of members within the 87th Texas Legislature

Membership in the Texas Legislature tends to overrepresent middle and upper-income groups.  The most common profession of our state legislators is a lawyer; business executives are also well represented.  People from these professions are generally those most likely to be able to adapt to the “full time, part of the time” nature of our state legislature.  They also seek to gain name recognition, prestige, and contacts from their time in the Texas Legislature, which benefits them in their primary roles.  Because these people do not officially leave their jobs (remember, part of the citizen legislature concept is having a legislature staffed with people who have full-time occupations outside of government), there’s always the opportunity that a special interest can “buy a legislator” by hiring their law firm or company.

Legislative Sessions

Regular Sessions

Regular sessions are the regular gatherings of state legislators as required by the state constitution.

Texas is one of four states that do not have annual regular sessions.  In Texas, our regular session is a biennial 140-day session that begins the second Tuesday in January in odd-numbered years (for example, the regular session for the 87th Texas Legislature met from January 12, 2021, through May 31, 2021).  During a regular session, the state budget and several thousand other bills must be considered.

Special Sessions

Special sessions are legislative sessions called between regular sessions to consider specific policy items or complete certain actions (such as redistricting).

In Texas, the governor has the power to call a special session for up to 30 days.  The governor sets the agenda for these special sessions, which limits the legislature when it comes to what topics can be discussed and what types of actions can be taken.

While the Texas Constitution of 1876 limits the length of special sessions to 30 days, it does not place any limits on the number of special sessions that can be called or the amount of time the governor must wait to call another one.  This means that the governor can call back-to-back special sessions if the Texas Legislature fails to take action in response to the agenda.  Calling multiple special sessions back-to-back, however, is not a common occurrence, in large part because special sessions are expensive (special sessions cost approximately $57,000/day, or $1.7 million/month), which makes them unpopular in a state that generally favors limited government (which includes limiting government spending).  Special sessions are also unpopular with legislators, who lose personal income: they have to take away time from their regular profession to meet at the state capitol and are not compensated their per diem like they are during a regular session.

There have been 123 special sessions since 1850; the most recent was called by Governor Abbott in 2021.  More information about past special sessions can be found on the Legislative Research Library of Texas’s website.

Legislative Districts

Members of the Texas House of Representatives and Texas Senate are represent specific legislative districts corresponding to various regions within our state.

Each of the 150 Texas House districts should contain roughly the same number of voters, and each of the 31 Texas Senate districts should contain roughly the same number of voters.  We ensure that districts have a roughly equal population by engaging in redistricting every ten years, following the U.S. Census.

Article III, Section 28 of the Texas Constitution of 1876 requires our Texas House of Representatives and Texas Senate legislative districts to be redrawn during the first regular session following the publication of U.S. census data.  Redistricting is also required by the federal government.  In the 1964 case Reynolds v. Sims, the U.S. Supreme Court applied the principle of “one person, one vote” to states by ruling that state legislative districts had to be roughly equal in population.

The Texas Constitution of 1876 set “Senate membership fixed at thirty-one . . . [whereas] The size of the House was permitted to rise to a maximum of 150” (May, n.d.).  Because we have reached the maximum size in both chambers, each member of our Texas House and Texas Senate represents a large (and growing) population.  According to the 2020 Census, Texas’s population is 29,145,505, which means each Texas House district represents approximately 194,000 people, and each Texas Senate district represents approximately 940,000 people.

How Redistricting Works

The "Gerrymander" Political CartoonThe Texas Legislature draws its own districts for the Texas House of Representatives, the Texas Senate in addition to the districts for U.S. House of Representatives.  Defining legislative districts is a political process, and state legislatures  employ a variety of techniques to draw district lines in such a way that they benefit or harm a particular group.  This is known as gerrymandering (named after the Gerrymander political cartoon, which depicts an oddly-shaped legislative district).  Gerrymandering generally relies on two tactics: packing and cracking.

Racial gerrymandering, or redistricting to enhance or reduce the chances that a racial or ethnic group will elect members to the legislature, is legal so long as it involves the creation of majority-minority districts designed to enhance a minority racial or ethnic group’s ability to elect members to the legislature (in 2015, Texas had 18 majority-minority state legislative districts); however, diluting the ability of a minority racial or ethnic group from being able to elect members to the legislature violates the U.S. Voting Rights Act of 1965 (it’s illegal).  Suits challenging adopted redistricting plans on the basis of racial discrimination resulting in diluting the vote of certain racial or ethnic minorities may be brought at any time under the U.S. Constitution, the Texas Constitution of 1876, and the U.S. Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Partisan gerrymandering, or redistricting to maximize the number of seats a political party can win, is legal . . . and it happens a lot, regardless of what political party is in control of a state’s legislature.

When Legislative Redistricting Initially Fails

If the Texas Legislature fails to redraw its legislative districts when meeting during regular session, either

  • the governor can call a special session for redistricting,
  • the Legislative Redistricting Board can take over the process and redraw the district maps (which occurred when the Texas House of Representatives and Texas Senate failed to adopt new legislative districts during the 2001 regular session), or
  • a state or federal court can issue court-ordered redistricting plans

Texas Legislature: The Basics

The Texas legislature is a bicameral legislature consisting of an upper chamber (the Texas Senate) and a lower chamber (the Texas House of Representatives).  The Texas Senate consists of 31 members who serve 4-year, staggered terms (meaning half of the chamber is up for re-election every two years).  The Texas House of Representatives consists of 150 members who serve 2-year terms.  Texas legislators represent single-member election districts.

To serve in the Texas legislature, you must be a U.S. citizen, registered to vote, and meet the additional qualifications included in the table below.

Chamber Age Residency
Texas House of Representatives 21 years of age 1 year in the district

2 years in the state

Texas Senate 26 years of age 1 year in the district

5 years in the state

Even though our legislature is considered the most powerful part of our state government, its structure and powers reflect the belief in limited government, and it continues to function in a similar manner to the way that it did in the 1800s, based on the citizen legislature model that was popular at the time.

Citizen Legislatures

A citizen legislature is a legislature primarily made up of citizens who have full-time occupations besides serving in government.  “The benefit of a citizen legislature, at least in theory, is that lawmakers bring a variety of career and life experiences to the lawmaking process; unlike career politicians, they must live with the laws they create when they return” (Messerly and Rindels, 2019 ).  Common characteristics associated with citizen legislatures include

  • meeting part-time (i.e., for a certain number of months every year/every other year)
  • low compensation (with the goal of preventing the emergence of career politicians and ensuring only those who want to “give back to society” will run for office)
  • small legislative staff sizes / no legislative staff

The Texas Legislature has all of these characteristics!  it meets for approximately six months every two years; Texas state legislators are among the lowest-paid in the nation, receiving $600/month ($7,200/year) and $190 per diem (to cover lodging, food, and transportation) during regular sessions; and Texas state legislators have limited staff.