The Texas Legislature has several important areas of authority and responsibility. The power that first comes to mind is legislative, or lawmaking, power. The Legislature enjoys other important powers, including oversight of the executive administration, investigative power, and impeachment power which will also be discussed below.
The primary responsibility of the Legislature is, of course, carrying out legislative responsibilities: considering and deliberating on bills (which may become laws), resolutions, and constitutional amendments. The main focus of legislative responsibilities is proposing and passing bills. The Legislature can also propose and pass resolutions, which do not carry the weight of laws, but instead are typically used for commemorations and declarations. In addition, the Legislature exercises authority concerning amendments to the Texas Constitution and the U.S. Constitution.
A bill is an item of proposed legislation that is introduced into either one of the two chambers of the Legislature for consideration and markup. A bill may die in the committee to which it is referred or later at one of many points in the lengthy legislative process. Or, it could pass every hurdle in the both houses, and go to the Governor for approval. Bills become laws only when the Governor signs them or refuses to veto them. (See this chapter's section on How a Bill Becomes a Law.)
In each 140-day session literally thousands of bills are introduced, the majority of which never become laws. Still, the number of bills that do become laws is quite considerable. In the 78th Legislature (2003), for instance, 5,592 bills were introduced in the House and the Senate combined. Some 1,384 of these bills were approved by both houses, 1,336 of which became law.
There are three types of bills that can be introduced: general, special, and local. The most important are the general bills which are applicable to all individuals and property throughout the state. Special bills and local bills are more limited in scope. The special bills provide exceptions to general laws for specific individuals or types of property. Local bills apply to only a limited geographical area or local government (e.g., the city of Fort Worth, Cameron County). If all the legislators from the affected area agree, then usually there is no opposition from other members.
Because of constitutional limitations on the types of local bills, the Legislature has developed the practice of passing so-called bracket bills, which do not name a specific local government or entity. Instead, they apply to a certain local government by specifying, for instance, that the bill applies to all counties with a land area between 6,190 and 6,200 square miles (only one, Brewster County). These are technically general bills, but in reality they function like local bills. The Texas House of Representatives has placed some limits on the use of bracket bills, forcing legislators to be more general when writing legislation targeted on specific local areas.