Breaking it down: Changing life of a legislation in the Texas Legislature

SAN ANTONIO – In the Texas Legislature’s 86th legislative session, more than 10,000 bills have been filed, but less than half of those will be enacted into law.

Why do some bills start as one thing and end up looking like something completely different at the end of session?

Let’s review the bill process:

First, a filed bill must be read on the chamber floor.

Then, the bill is sent to committees. The committees can kill a bill or advance it forward with recommendations for future reading.

In those future floor readings, the bill can be passed, voted down or amended.

Ross Ramsey, executive editor for the Texas Tribune, compares it to a Hail Mary pass in football. A Hail Mary pass is made in desperation when there is little time in the game left and little chance of winning.

Ramsey said it’s what some legislators might do to save their bills from dying in session.

 “If you are looking for a place to save your legislation, you have a Hail Mary pass here,” Ramsey said.

Ramsey said this is why people may see one bill start off as one thing and then it becoming something else. These Hail Mary passes, or attempts, are usually amendments made to bills that are getting traction on chamber floors.

 “Look for other pieces of legislation that have the same or similar subject matter, and you propose to add your bill to those bills as an amendment that the still-alive bills will carry forward,” Ramsey said.

This play was made with state Senate Bill 312 and House Bill 672, which are both aimed at allowing craft breweries to sell their beer in to-go cases. Neither passed committees in their chambers.

In order to save these bills, an amendment was made to House Bill 1545.

HB 1545 originally started out as a broader bill about the operations of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. This bill needs to pass this session to avoid the agency from shutting down.

Other amendments were also tacked onto HB 1545, such as allowing grocery stores to sell alcohol at 10 a.m. on Sundays instead of noon. Ramsey said it’s instances such as these that can totally change the face of a bill. He said people will see the changes happen especially in the last two weeks of session with deadlines approaching.

“If this was a football game, we'd be in saying, you're probably not going to win this game, but there still might be some way we can win it. Just kind of watch and see if an issue advances,” Ramsey said.  

About the Authors: