Monday, November 14, 2016

It's the First Day of Early Filing

Today is the first day of early filing in the Texas Legislature. Lawmakers in both the House and Senate may begin filing the bills that will be discussed when the legislature convenes in January 10, 2017. So how does that work and what does it mean?

For the most part bills are numbered in the order they are filed. However House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 1 are reserved for the Appropriations Bill (the state's budget) and the first several bills in each chamber are reserved for the Speaker's priorities and the Lt. Governor's priorities, respectively. Last session it was the first 40 bills in the House, so the first bill filed on early filing day was HB 41, and the first 20 bills in the Senate, so the first bill filed was SB 21.

There's no real particular legislative advantage to filing on the first day. Once the session gets going and bills sent to committees they are typically referred in batches of a couple hundred. The House and Senate will send the few hundred bills filed today to committee in the first couple of days of referral and the dozen or so bills filed tomorrow will follow them the same day or the next. Since the chairs of committees have almost complete discretion about when to schedule bills for hearings, a bill filed today could easily be heard in committee after a bill filed tomorrow or three months from now - or not at all.

So why bother to traipse up to Austin to file a bill the first day?

The bills filed today aren't an indication of what's most likely to pass next session, but they are an indication of what will be the major topics of conversation. Today's bills represent the top priorities for lawmakers - and, since every media outlet that covers the lege will run a "what got filed on the first day of early filing" article they are more so the top priorities of the lawmakers who really know how to capture the media's attention.

We're likely to see several bills addressing school finance, for instance, but the school finance bills that really have grease under them won't be filed until after the committee reports from the committees that have spent the last 18 months studying the issue come in and their findings can be incorporated into bills - and those bills will likely get those extra-special, reserved early numbers.

We're likely to see a couple of marriage bills, both pro- and anti- filed (last session (the first to see both statutory and constitutional marriage bills filed in both chambers) the pro-marriage bills were all filed on the first day).

I also wouldn't be surprised to see a couple of potty police bills filed today. Lt. Gov. Patrick has made it a major policy position and some people will be rushing to curry favor by filing their versions (despite the fact that everyone who filed one last session lost their re-election bid). But again the ones filed today aren't likely to be the ones that eventually pass Patrick's Senate, as I suspect he's got one of those special "Lt. Governor's priorities" spots in the top 20 reserved and I bet he waits until a day the bill is all alone in the news cycle to have it filed.

So pay attention to what gets filed today because it's a good indication of what we're going to be spending the 140 days of session talking about - but don't get too attached to any of the specific bills filed today, they aren't likely to be the ones we're worried about in May.

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