The Legislative Process
To be an effective advocate, it is important to understand how the legislative process works. The Texas Legislature, a branch of the Texas state government, is quite similar to the U.S. Congress, a branch of the federal government. Both are bicameral, or made up of two separate bodies. The Texas Legislature comprises:
- The Texas House of Representatives, consisting of 150 members each elected to represent a state House District.
- The Texas Senate, which has 31 members to represent state Senate districts.
The House is overseen by the Speaker of the House, whom House members elect each session. The speaker is responsible for coordinating House business and appointing committees, which are smaller groups of House members dedicated to making recommendations on various issues (e.g., the House Committee on Public Education). The presiding officer for the Senate is the Lieutenant Governor, a statewide elected official.
Except for special sessions, which the governor may call as necessary, the Texas Legislature only meets once every two years for 140 days. Each legislative session, legislators file thousands of bills to change existing laws or create new ones. To be enacted into law, a bill must follow a multi-step process:
- First, a bill must be considered by a committee. The speaker and lieutenant governor assign each bill to the appropriate committee. The committees consider various bills, make necessary changes, and vote on them. Committee hearings often include testimony from stakeholders who express support or opposition to bills or make suggestions on how to change them. Once approved by a committee, the bill is sent on to the House or Senate floor for consideration.
- Once approved on the House or Senate floor, a bill is sent to the other chamber to repeat the process.
- Sometimes the second chamber makes changes to the bill as previously approved by the other chamber. In this case, the bill is sent to a conference committee made up of both House and Senate members to work out the differences between the two versions of the bill.
- Once approved by both the House and Senate, a bill is then sent to the governor to either become law or be vetoed.
However, most bills filed each session are never brought up for consideration at all or are voted down at some point during the process—in legislative-speak, they “die.”
Keep in mind, each time a bill is voted on during the legislative process presents another opportunity for advocates to affect whether the bill continues its journey to becoming law or is killed. The best time to have an impact is during the committee process when fewer votes are needed to determine the bill’s fate. For example, if a House committee is made up of 10 lawmakers, only six votes may be needed to kill a bill versus 76 votes on the House floor.
Track major education legislation and find opportunities to take part in the legislative process on our advocacy blog.
Watch the action
Most legislative committees and proceedings on the House and Senate floor are broadcast online. Visit the Texas Legislature's website for links to live and archived video of the proceedings.