March 3, 2009

From the desk of Rep. Allen Vaught

The Committee Process- Part Two

This article is the second in a two part series discussing the committee process for the Texas House of Representatives. In the previous article, I discussed the changes to the house standing committees for the 81st legislative session. In this article, I will review the house committee procedures, including referral of bills by the speaker, bill analyses, committee meetings and hearings, and the calendars committees.

Referral by the Speaker of the House
After a bill is filed in the Texas House, the Speaker of the House has the responsibility of referring that bill to a particular committee. The speaker will look at a committee's jurisdiction and what code or statute a bill changes in order to decide where a bill should be referred. Additionally, the speaker appoints the members of the House to particular committees and designates who will serve as the committee chair. Once a bill is referred to committee, the committee chair then takes over responsibility for deciding if and when a bill will be heard.

Bill Analyses
Once a bill is referred to committee, the author of that bill may request a bill analysis be prepared by the Texas Legislative Council. The bill analysis will explain, in easy to understand language, the background and purpose of the bill, where the rulemaking authority of the bill may lie if applicable, and will detail the contents and sections of the bill. During this legislative session, a copy of the bill analysis must be provided to each committee member before that bill can be considered.

Committee Meetings and Hearings
There are three different types of meetings a committee may hold. They can either hold a "work session" to discuss legislation but take no formal action, or hold a "formal meeting" or "public hearing" where they may act on legislation. Most of these meetings are open to the public. Public hearings on a bill are posted at least five calendar days in advance, whereas work sessions and formal meetings are only posted two hours in advance. A committee usually does not meet while the House is in session unless approved by a majority vote of the House.

Unlike the Senate rules, the House is not required to hold a public hearing before legislation is considered in committee. If a house committee decides to hold a public hearing they will usually let anyone testify, although sometimes the hearing is limited to invited testimony only. If you are ever interested in attending a committee meeting or hearing, or would like to inquire about testifying in front of a house committee on a particular bill, please contact my office.

A quorum must be present in a House committee for them to take action on a bill. There are several actions a committee may take when a bill is laid before them. They may vote to refer the bill to a subcommittee, leave it pending, or postpone taking action. If the committee is ready to report on the bill, they can either report it favorably or unfavorably. "Reporting" is the final action the committee may take on a bill. If the bill is reported unfavorably, it is essentially killed and has died in the committee. If the bill is reported favorably, then an official committee report is printed, and the bill is either sent to the Local and Consent Calendars Committee or the Calendars Committee to be scheduled for a vote on the House floor.

Calendars Committee
There are two different committees that decide if and when a bill will be scheduled for debate on the house floor: Calendars and Local & Consent Calendars. The Local & Consent Calendars Committee has eleven members who place local and uncontested bills on the House floor schedule. The Calendars Committee has thirteen members and will also schedule bills for floor consideration, but has the responsibility for placing bills on the Emergency, Major State, or General State Calendars as well.

I hope this article helped to clarify and explain some of the House rules and the committee process. This was a brief overview of committee procedures, so if you would like more information, please feel free to contact my district office at (214) 370-8305 or my capitol office at (512) 463-0244. I look forward to hearing from you.