The Texas Legislature meets every two years for 140 days and you can expect that many bills will be filed that will affect your patients and your practice. There are many roadblocks (thank goodness!) in the legislative process that may prevent a bill from becoming a law. While the Federation actively represents your interests in the Legislature, the value of grassroots lobbying can not be over emphasized. Your active involvement in the legislative process may be the difference in the passage of legislation or “killing a bill.” This Primer is intended to offer you some helpful hints for your personal lobbying efforts.
COMPOSITION OF THE TEXAS LEGISLATURE
The Texas Legislature is composed of two legislative bodies: the Senate and House of Representatives. The House is composed of 150 members who are elected every two years. The Senate is composed of 31 members, half of whom are elected every two years for four-year terms.
The Lieutenant Governor, elected in a statewide election every four years, presides over the Texas Senate. The Speaker of the House, elected by the House membership at the beginning of each session, presides over the House. The Speaker may vote on all legislation. The Lt. Governor may only vote to break a tie.
Along with the Speaker and Lt. Governor, the chairs of legislative committees in the House and Senate are very important and powerful. The only action formally required on a piece of legislation is that it be assigned to a committee for study. Once the legislation is in committee, it is strictly up to that committee, particularly its chair, to determine what happens to the bill. Committees can choose to amend, reject, table or approve legislation. Legislation cannot be considered on the floor of the House or Senate, however, without first being considered favorably by the committee to which it is assigned.
HOW A BILL BECOMES LAW
Legislation may be pre-filed before the Legislative Session starts. Pre-filing begins as early as the Monday following the November general election. Once the Legislative Session begins, legislation may be introduced through the 60th day of the session. After the 60th day, only local bills and general law bills may be introduced, subject to a 4/5 vote of approval in the House. In the Senate, a 4/5 vote is required to introduce any bill throughout the Legislative Session. All revenue-raising bills originate in the House.
The first reading of a bill occurs when the bill is introduced and referred to a committee. The second reading occurs after the bill has been favorably reported back to the House or Senate by a committee. There is no requirement that the committees take action on every bill referred to them.
Once the bill passes the House or Senate on the third reading, it is considered “engrossed”. The process then begins all over in the other body of the Legislature. If a House bill is amended in the Senate, or a Senate bill is amended in the House, the bill is returned to the house of origin for “concurrence” on the amendments or the appointment of a Conference Committee to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.
When a bill is approved by both houses in identical form, it is “enrolled” in final form, signed by the presiding officers of both houses, and sent to the Governor. Within 10 days, the Governor may approve or veto a bill. A vetoed bill is returned to its house of origin along with a statement of objections. If the Governor fails to sign or veto a bill within the 10 days, the bill becomes law without the Governor’s signature. If the session is still in progress, the Legislature can override a veto of the Governor with a 2/3 vote of both houses.
During the course of a typical Legislative Session, over 5,000 bills will be filed. Historically, the Federation tracks about 300 bills that are of importance to psychiatrists and patients. Of the 300 bills, the Federation will usually categorize about 40 bills as Priority 1, meaning intensive legislative lobbying needed. The Federation will keep you informed of these high priority bills through the Texas Psychiatrist newsletter and through this website. Also, Legislative Alerts will be faxed, mailed or e-mailed to members. Occasionally, the Federation will call members and ask them to personally contact a legislator on a specific issue. Have you returned your Key Contact Survey to the Federation?
The Federation welcomes your input on specific bills and issues. Please e-mail a message to us at TxPsychiatry@aol.com, fax a message to us at 512/478-5223, mail your comments to us at 401 West 15th Street, Suite 675, Austin, Texas 78701, or call us at 512/478-0605.
Finding Your Legislator
To be effective in your communications, you should contact your specific legislator first and then members of key committees who are considering bills of interest. To identify your incumbent legislator, access http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/Home.aspx and enter your home address.