AUSTIN — With 52 days left in Texas’ 87th Legislative Session, many state lawmakers are beginning to feel the increasing pressure of self-imposed deadlines.
Though the end of the 140-day session is not until May 31, lawmakers are now approaching the time when specific dates and rules begin to prevent them from considering additional bills in the last weeks of the session.
Some of those deadlines are public, while others are more of private common practice and custom—but both are leveraged by legislative leadership to ensure whatever they deem as priorities cross the legislative finish line.
What is unknown to many citizen activists is whether the legislative leadership shares their priorities.
What Are the Public Deadlines?
The legislative process consists of 140 days, but the reality is that significantly fewer of those days can actually be used to consider proposed laws in both the House and Senate, and even fewer of those days can be used to consider certain types of bills.
This is largely because of self-imposed deadlines and rules that affect both legislative chambers, particularly the House of Representatives.
For instance, the week of May 11-14 represents deadlines when the House begins to officially pivot away from considering House bills and moves toward only Senate bills that have been passed out of the upper chamber.
A little more than a week later represents deadlines when the House can no longer consider Senate bills, leaving them a final few days to consider conference committee reports and recommendations as they debate or accept the agreed-upon differences between bills that have made it through both legislative chambers.
House Calendars Hurdle
Starting April 9, any bill that is sent to the House Calendars Committee has the potential to ultimately die there due to a House rule allowing for a bill to not be considered for up to 30 days. This rule has been effectively employed by legislative leadership in the past to ensure certain bills never make it to the House floor for debate and a vote, and due to the operations of the committee itself, the rule makes it very difficult for observers to directly pinpoint a particular member as the reason the proposed laws were never considered.
Another rule allows the House Calendars Committee to set the calendar order that proposed laws are considered in the overall House of Representatives. This power becomes more impactful as the last few weeks of the legislative session unfold, because the posted calendars get considerably lengthy and lawmakers cannot get to every item.
The last day the committee posts a calendar of House bills and House joint resolutions is May 11, while the last day for the House to consider House bills and House joint resolutions on second reading is May 13.
Historically, in the days leading up to those deadlines, the House never completely gets through their normal daily calendars, causing a backlog of proposed laws. On top of that, controversial bills that House leadership might be more reluctant to actually bring up may get voted out of the Calendars Committee, set on a calendar, but then purposefully set late in the day to de-facto kill them because of “time” instead of pinning the ultimate blame on a particular legislator.
The upper chamber also has rules and deadlines, but they are undoubtedly more flexible and amenable to prioritize bills and ensure they finish their desired legislative work.
What it Means for Legislative Priorities
Historically, the governor’s legislative priorities find an easier path through the entirety of the legislative process than others. As the deadlines approach, the House speaker’s and lieutenant governor’s priorities are normally used as negotiating tools between chambers to shake bills loose that might be held up somewhere in the process.
All of the remaining time—if there is any—is normally left for the individual priorities of other legislators.
Dates Activists Should be Concerned With
In summary, activists hoping to get their priorities across the legislative finish line need to be worried about dates such as:
- May 10 – The last day for House committees to pass out House bills and House joint resolutions.
- May 13 – The last day for the House to consider House bills and House joint resolutions on second reading.
- May 31 – Sine die, or the last day of the legislative session, which in many ways becomes the last nail in the coffin for bills stuck on the remaining calendars.