Sunday, October 10, 2010

Anti-Bullying Legislation in Texas Part II

Be sure to read Part I

So, if HB 1323 had overwhelming support, why didn't it become law?

One of the great truisms of the Texas legislature is that the system is designed to prevent things from getting done. Every other year 183 people meet for 140 days. Every decision about how to improve the lives of Texans that needs to be made must be made by those people in that time. If not it must wait another 2 years for the process to start over again.

In the end HB 1323 just ran out of time. 140 days in the session, that's all. In addition, there are a number of deadlines that a bill must make along the process. HB 1323 barely missed an important one on May 14th, 2009, and with that thousands of Texas schoolchildren were left to suffer for another two years.

Let's look at what happened...

February 17, 2009
Day 35 of the legislative session.

The first bills of the session were filed on November 10, 2008, but HB 1323 wasn't filled until this day. In the House bills are numbered in the order they are filed (except for the first 10 bills, which are reserved for the budget and issues the Speaker of the House considers important).

February 26th, 2009
Day 44 of the legislative session

HB 1323 is read for the first time on the House floor. Each bill gets a "First Reading", which consists of reading out the bill number, the name of the legislator who filed it, and a very brief description of the bill, known as a caption. Bills are read in the order they are numbered, so it takes awhile to get to number 1323. During First Reading each bill is referred to a committee which is charged with holding public hearings on it. HB 1323 was referred to the Public Education Committee.

The good news is that Committees can hear bills in any order they want. The Chair of each committee (who is appointed by the Speaker of the House) gets to determine the order in which bills are "heard" by the committees. Committee Chairpersonships are usually given to allies of the Speaker or House members who have served for so long that their seniority demands it.

March 31, 2009
Day 77 of the legislative session

Rep. Rob Eissler, a Republican from the Houston Suburb of the Woodlands was chair of the Public Education Committee last session. Rep. Eissler scheduled the bill for a hearing on March 31, 33 days after it was first referred to his committee. As I said before the bill was overwhelmingly supported in the committee hearing.

Committees do not generally vote on bills on the same day they are heard. The Chair calls for a vote on each bill (it is possible for a majority of the members of the committee to force a vote, but that is almost unheard of). So although the bill was heard on March 31st, it was "left pending" in committee until:

April 9, 2009
Day 86 of the legislative session

The 11 person committee voted: 6 in favor, none opposing and 5 absent (it's not unusual for a fair number of members of a committee to be absent for a vote, all house members serve on at least 2 committees, and must also appear before other committees to present, or 'lay out', their bills - a sort of hand-shake agreement between members means that the chair will usually not bring a bill to a vote at all unless it's going to pass anyway).

But wait! Just because a bill has been voted out of committee doesn't mean that it's on its way. All bills have to be placed on one of the House's "Calendars". These are lists of different kinds of bills that will be considered by the House. The House has 7 different calendars, each dealing with a different area of the business of the House. Certain calendars are considered on different days and certain calendars take precedence over others.

Most of the 7 calendars are overseen by the Calendars Committee, one of the most powerful, and busy, committees in the House. The Calendars Committee requires that all of the paperwork on each bill be carefully filled out and formatted so that their job of figuring out which calendar to place each bill on is easier. The committee clerk has to file that paperwork and then it must be formally accepted on the floor, which happened on:

April 20, 2009
Day 96 of the legislative session

The Calendars Committee reads through every bill and determines which calendar to place it on. Once it's placed on a calendar the bill will get a "Second Reading" which will be the first time the entire membership of the House will get to discuss the bill.

The Calendars Committee considered HB 1323 and decided it should go on the General State Calendar. (The General State Calendar is for bills that are not an emergency issue, will affect the entire state, but are limited as to whom they affect. HB 1323 would have only affected school children, their parents, and school administrators - not every Texan, and so it was placed on General State).

HB 1323 was placed on the General State Calendar on:

May 8, 2009
Day 114 of the legislative session

So HB 1323 got in line behind several hundred other bills to get its second reading. At this point HB 1323 was less than half way on the road to becoming a law. With several thousand bills to consider each session the Legislature has created deadlines all along the 140 day schedule; hurdles that each bill must pass by a certain time or be forced to wait another 2 years to be considered.

Last session the deadline for second readings was:

Midnight, May 14, 2009
day 120 of the legislative session

So the debate on HB 1323 had to begin before then. When midnight fell the House was still deep in heated debate on a different bill and HB 1323 was still in line. It missed being read by 11 bills, mostly due to procedural delays caused by Rep. Warren Chisum, the notorious bigot who brought us the Texas version of the "Defense of Marriage Act".

(I honestly doubt that Chisum intentionally delayed the work of the House to kill this particular bill, as I doubt he was paying much attention to it, but the fact remains that his dithering and obstinacy on the floor caused the death of a good bill.)

Would HB 1323 have become law if it had made the deadline? It seems unlikely. After second reading there is a third reading on the house floor, another opportunity for debate, and another vote. The bill must then be referred to the Senate where the whole process begins again (first reading, referred to committee, heard in committee, voted out of committee, referred to Calendars, placed on a calendar, second reading, third reading), then if the Senate made any changes to the bill the differences between the House version and the Senate version must be hashed out in what is called a "Conference Committee". Then the House and the Senate would have had to vote to approve the compromise that the Conference Committee came up with and refer the bill to the Governor, who can still veto it.

(There is a shortcut available. If a version of the bill is introduced in the Senate (known as a "Senate Companion") at the beginning of the session the House version can take its place in the process, saving a great deal of time. But HB 1323 did not have a Senate Companion, so it would have had to go through the whole Senate Process, and with only 20 days left in the session it seems unlikely that would have happened.)

What can be done to insure that the bill passes in 2011? Read Part III

No comments:

Post a Comment