Monday, November 12, 2012

Day -57: First Day to Pre-file Bills

There are 57 days until the start of the 83rd regular session of the Texas legislature. Today is the first day for members to pre-file legislation for consideration once the body convenes.

Even after the start of session there will be several additional steps before any of these bills start on the process to become laws. First the House will need to elect from amongst their membership a speaker, who will oversee the legislative process over the 140 days of the session. The current speaker is Joe Strauss (R - San Antonion), but Rep. Brian Hughes (R - Mineola) has announced his intention to challenge Strauss for the speakership. Hughes is unlikely to defeat Strauss unless he can engineer a change in the way the speaker is selected.

Throughout its history the House has voted as a body for speaker, this has required candidates to construct coalitions from both parties to achieve the 76 votes (out of 150) needed. This process has usually produced a centrist speaker with which neither the far right nor far left has been particularly enamored.

Contrast that process with the US House of Representatives: the majority party meets in caucus to select their choice and then agrees to vote a block for that choice, thus producing the gridlock and intransigence for which Washington is so well known. If Hughes can convince his fellow Republicans to use a similar system he may be able to unseat Strauss.

After the House selects a speaker both it and the Senate must write their own rules. This is usually done by starting with the previous session's rules and making adjustments to address issues that arose during the previous session or during the interim. The rules also determine the committee structure for both the House and Senate.

Once the rules, and the committees, are determined the Speaker and the Lieutenant Governor assign members to committees in the House and Senate, respectively.

On the Senate side there will be 5 new members (four new members elected last week and one more elected in a special election to replace the late Sen. Mario Gallegos). Last session Lt. Gov. Dewhurst announced committee assignments on the 16th day of session. He's already begun to re-arrange some of the committee chairs and even with the new members it's likely that we'll know the make-up of committees around the same time this session. 

Because of the advantages of early filing, some members
have staffers camp out to file early. As Rep. Dan Branch
(R - Dallas) notes in this tweet.
The speaker will have a bigger task on his hands. During his first session as speaker, Struass announced committee assignments on day 18. Last session, with 26 freshmen members it took him a little longer and committee assignments weren't announced until day 30. This session, with 43 freshmen in the 83rd House we likely won't see committee assignments until early February.

Only after rules are adopted and committee assignments are made can bills be referred to committee. So a bill filed today will likely be in limbo until late January or early February, when it will finally get the chance to be referred.

Typically, at least on the House side, bills are referred to committee in 200 bill blocks, so the first 200 bills (which will likely all be filed today (except for the first 20 in the House and 25 in the Senate, those are reserved for "priority" bills and can be filed at any time) are the first to get started in the process.

Because of the advantages of being in that first block of 200 some members have staffers wait overnight in the capitol to ensure being first in line, and so the first of many long nights for capitol staffers begins and the 83rd regular session draws closer.

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