The Texas Legislature gaveled in just a few short weeks ago. And, while lawmakers typically wait until the waning weeks of the session to get anything done, we're answering some of your questions about what goes on under the granite dome for our TXDecides project.
Today’s question comes from Gerryl Krilic:
When a bill is presented, what is the process? How many votes required to pass a bill?
Jennifer Stayton: Throughout out this legislative session, public radio stations across Texas have banded together to answer listeners' questions about what is happening at the State Capitol – what are the policies, what are the procedures, what's going on during the legislative session. the project is called TXDecides. And this week, a question from a listener [who] wants to know when a bill is presented, what is the process? Also the second part of that question, how many votes are required to pass a bill to answer those questions from a listener as part of our TXDecides project. Here's KUT's Ben Philpott.
Ben Philpott: I will start with the second part first. If it's a regular bill, you need 50 percent plus one. You need a majority of votes to pass it.
JS: Is that in the House and the Senate?
BP: That's in the House and in the Senate. If it's a...if it's something that would lead to a constitutional amendment, that needs a two thirds vote of the House and Senate. Most bills, the majority of bills, are going to be a simple majority vote. Now, the process.
JS: What's the process?
BP: The process is a lot like our favorite song from Schoolhouse Rock, "I'm Just a Bill." We're going to start with a bill in the Senate, although you could start in the House in about the same thing would happen. A bill is introduced in the Senate. It is read one time on the Senate floor and referred to a Senate committee. The Senate committee takes up the bill, debates it and, if a majority of senators on that committee vote out, it then heads back up to the Senate floor for a second reading. Now, before we get to second reading, the Senate has a special little rule here. It's called the three-fifths rule, where three-fifths of senators have to say, 'Yes, we would like this bill to come up for a vote' before the bill can come up for a vote. That means that essentially you have to have the support of three-fifths of senators just to get a bill up, even if you only need a simple majority of senators to get the bill passed. So, that's second reading. [It] passes there comes up for a third time, [senators] pass it, it goes to the House. Then, the same procedure starts all over again – referred to a committee, committee hearing, passed out to the House floor. But now, before it can come up to the floor of the House, it has to go through a special committee that just the House has called the Calendar's Committee. Calendar's committee is a group of lawmakers that set the daily schedule for the House. They list the bills in the order that the bills will be brought up and voted on. And, if [a] bill is not put on that calendar, it doesn't get to come up for a vote. So the calendar committee sets the calendar, comes up for a second vote on the floor of the House, passes comes up for a third vote the next day on the floor of the House, passes. But it doesn't go to the governor's office just yet.
JS: What happens then?
BP: It depends on how much it changed or if it changed at all rather from the Senate bill. The Senate sends over one version. If House changed it at some point with amendments, then that bill will go back to the Senate and then the author of the bill will get an option to either accept the bill with amendments or say 'No, we reject the bill with amendments. We'd like a conference committee.' If the conference committee happens, the House puts five people up, the Senate puts five people up, they meet together, they hammer out a the two bills until they have a single bill. Then that bill goes back to both the House and the Senate at the same time for an up or down vote. If, of course, it makes it then it heads to the governor's office. Then, the governor signs it.