AUSTIN, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – The Texas Legislature officially begins Tuesday, Jan. 12, kicking off a hectic and complicated process that will likely affect all of us down the road.
In some ways, today’s legislature works a lot like it did in the 1800s.
“This is a state that historically is suspicious of politicians,” said Texas A&M Political Science Prof. Dwight Roblyer. “We have this idea that we don’t want the government telling us a whole lot of what to do.”
Sessions are scheduled every other year and last 140 days.
Roblyer says the framers made it a part-time job to avoid attracting professional politicians.
“They want[ed] somebody who is a businessman or a rancher.” The state pays lawmakers $600 a month plus a per diem of $221 for each day of the session.
So far this year, lawmakers have filed more than 1,300 bills, with many more expected.
During the 2019 session, they filed more than 8,700 bills.
Typically, about a quarter make it to the finish line.
“Most bills die in committee,” said Roblyer. “Many of them not even getting picked up and discussed. They just come in and get tossed into the proverbial pile in the corner of the room.”
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Representative Jared Patterson (R-Collin County) says the system is designed to kill bills.
“It’s not an easy process- and it shouldn’t be! It’s a big responsibility to write laws that people have to live under,” he said.
Senator Nathan Johnson (D-Dallas County) says the relatively short session puts pressure on lawmakers to move fast and can lead to good bills being left behind.
“Granted, several thousand of them, I’m not that sad that they didn’t make it,” said Johnson. “But we lose a lot of good bills every season.”
While there are 150 representatives and 31 senators, Roblyer says a bill’s fate mostly depends on two people.
“If you don’t have the Speaker [of the House] and Lt. Governor’s support, you have a double uphill battle.”
And if you want to know which issues are important to them: look at the numbers.
“The first 20 bill numbers in both the Senate and the House.. are special numbers that leadership gives out to indicate which bills they care most about,” said Roblyer. “One of the leaders of the two chambers will say, ‘oh that bill, I want to put my blessing on it,’ so they will renumber it as #3 or #17.”
A bill can pass both chambers and still be killed if the governor vetoes it. Statistics show bills that begin in the Senate have a better chance at becoming law.
Only one bill, though, is guaranteed to pass.
That’s HB1, the state budget, which must be approved by law.
Everything else has to run the gauntlet.
As Roblyer put it: “It’s hardball politics.”