Passing legislation in Texas is a long and difficult process, perhaps appropriate given the importance and seriousness of creating new laws. Despite the actual complexity and detail involved in passing legislation, the basic process is quite easily grasped after examining the process in detail. In a 2004 Texas Politics interview, State Representative Geanie Morrison (R-Victoria) described the process of a bill becoming law, from the perspective of a legislator.
The same basic steps are repeated in both houses of the Legislature. Still, there are important differences in the details of each house's rules and structure that impact that chamber's handling of a bill. These are discussed below, along with the conference committee process and brief coverage of the Governor's options in dealing with bills sent to him by the Legislature.
A bill must be passed by both houses of the Legislature in order to be sent to the Governor for approval or acceptance as a law. It can be introduced in either chamber first, or both simultaneously to speed the process, except that all bills for raising revenue must start in the House.
A bill can be introduced only by a member of the Legislature. This member is known as the sponsor of the bill. But the sponsor typically is not the originator of the proposed legislation.
More commonly, bills begin as twinkles in the eyes of organized interest groups, private corporations, lobbying organizations, and law firms. These organizations offer considerable expertise in the specific subject areas and in the formal requirements (style, organization and content) of proposed legislation. Sometimes they even write the full text that is submitted to the chief clerk.
The shortness of the legislative session has led to the practice of prefiling bills before the legislative session begins. On the first business day in the week following the November general elections current members and those just elected but not yet seated may begin prefiling bills. After the 2004 election, lawmakers prefiled 135 bills on the first day for prefiling, typical of prefiling patterns in the 1990s but down somewhat from the surge in prefiling after the raucous 2000 and 2002 elections (257 bills prefiled on the first day after the 2000 election and 249 after the 2002 election).
When a bill is introduced it is assigned a number that begins with HB (House Bill) if introduced in the House and SB (Senate Bill) if introduced in the Senate.
The Texas Constitution requires three readings of a bill on the floor of each house. The first reading occurs when the bill is introduced. Here the reading clerk in the House or the Secretary of the Senate reads aloud the bill's caption, a short summary, and announces the committee to which the Speaker (or the Lieutenant Governor in the Senate) has assigned responsibility for working on the bill.
Because the legislative process is time-consuming and the legislative session is short, it is common for identical companion bills to be introduced in both houses at once.