Daniel is a nonprofit executive director, Texas first responder, and has participated in three Texas legislative sessions.
Texas is a difficult state for passing legislation. Comparatively few authored bills make it to the governor's desk; for example, in 2015, only about 21% of the bills filed reached the governor. Many bills require multiple legislative sessions to gain significant traction, too.
Although passing legislation is a challenge, authoring legislation is less complicated and available to any constituent knowing how to navigate the process. This article describes how to write a bill for the Texas Legislature and breaks down the process. Taking a legislative idea and turning it into a bill can be simple if the proper path is navigated.
Who Can Author A Bill?
Authoring a bill begins by understanding who can officially be an author. In Texas, only an elected member of the Texas House of Representatives or the Texas Senate can file a bill during a legislative session. No action occurs without a legislator's sponsorship.
However, many citizens create bill language and work with the legislator's office to construct the submitted product. Although nothing occurs without a legislator, representatives routinely depend on the ideas and input of constituents to create working legislation. Authoring a bill is almost always a communal process.
How to Find a Legislative Author
The search for a legislative author begins best with local legislators. Local legislators can be found via the Capitol's Representative Search, which provides profile links for both representatives and senators. Local legislators traditionally provide the most support to constituents because that is the purpose of their position. This is especially true if requesting local or regional changes to state law.
Communication is best established by visiting their local office and speaking personally with a staff member. If a personal visit isn't possible, a phone call requesting the best contact the proposed idea is a suitable alternative.
Unfortunately, some legislative ideas will not be supported by local legislators. This may be due to a conflict in political ideology or the legislator may simply be limited in what they can support. The absence of local support means finding an at-large author. Any of Texas' 150 state representatives and 31 state senators can sponsor a bill and some may be looking for an opportunity to support an opportune idea.
Locating a statewide author can be an intense process. Advantages found within personal networks offer the easiest route while cold calling is the hardest. If the search is proving too difficult, it may be beneficial to contact an advocacy organization and use their legislative connections for finding an author.
Creating Proper Language for Your Bill
It is important to know the desired bill language prior to contacting legislators. Writing legislation is ultimately about changing Texas law. The need for change must be clearly stated and supporting evidence should be readily available.
A constituent can start the legislative process by simply expressing their thoughts to a legislative office. However, a clear message with adequate research can facilitate a more efficient process for all involved. It also ensures minimal misunderstanding between the language that is desired and the language that is produced (see the legislative drafting section for more on this).
The best supporting evidence is objective and quantifiable. Qualitative evidence, such as personal stories, can be effective but often leaves room for misinterpretation without objective companions.
Resources for Texas Legislation
A good resource for searching existing Texas law is the Texas Constitution and Statutes Search Page. Keywords can be searched to see what exists regarding a specific topic. This is beneficial when considering a minor change to an existing law. Texas Legislative Online can also be searched to find similar bills that have been filed in previous legislative sessions. This is an excellent resource for better understanding bill language.
Although exact language is not necessary for initiating the process, desired language is important to convey. Evidence-based research and a clear statement of need are the two most important elements a constituent can provide when creating proper bill language.
How to Work With a Legislative Office
A legislator's office depends heavily on its legislative staff. Most constituents interact directly with staff members while only having limited access to the legislator. Legislative staffers are connected, diligent, and do the majority of the leg work on each bill. Higher ranking staff members often hold graduate level education while legislative aides are mostly interning through their universities.
If an office is sponsoring a bill, staff members will be assigned to research every aspect of the bill. It's important to communicate with them in a timely fashion and have information ready if requested.
The staff member keeps the legislator informed about the bill's progress and works to ensure language that is suitable to the legislator and constituent. Once the language is determined, it is submitted for legislative drafting.
The Legislative Drafting Process
A bill cannot enter the legislative process until it is reviewed by the Texas Legislative Council (TLC). This process is informally known as drafting. The TLC reviews each bill and ensures it is worded appropriately for state law. The TLC can change a bill's language during this process and the returned product may differ from that which was submitted.
Drafting is a normal process for legislation and all bills must experience the review. However, drafting is also known to create complications.
Bills may receive new language that accidentally changes its intent. Similarly, new language may create unintended consequences for other laws. Many of these complications arise due to the addition or removal of a single word. It is important to thoroughly review the language once it returns from drafting. If a discrepancy is found, the bill must be resubmitted to the council with the listed concern.
Another complication is that drafting can be a lengthy process. If a bill is submitted during the working legislative session, it can take weeks to be drafted due to the volume of demand. This places the bill at a disadvantage for deadlines and lobbying.
An excellent working relationship with the legislative office is important because of the drafting process. Engaged staff members normally allow constituents to review the bill to ensure it meets desired intent. This is also why it's important to know desired language. If the returned language is acceptable, the bill is filled by the legislator and receives its official House or Senate identifier.
Filing the Bill
Filing the bill means it is officially authored and available for action within the legislative process. The best time to file a bill is before the legislative session begins. Bills can be pre-filed for a legislative session starting in November. This creates a buffer for drafting complications.
It is important to know that a bill is always a working draft. The legislative process can amend or change a bill multiple times without the consent of the constituent or the bill's legislative author. The bill's first action is receiving its committee assignment, where it awaits its first hearing. This the beginning for a newly authored bill.
Pearls of Wisdom
Writing a bill for the Texas Legislature is straightforward. However, a few pearls of wisdom can be beneficial for navigating the political aspect of the legislature.
- Try finding both a Representative and Senator to author the bill. Success is greatly increased by filing in both chambers due to each chamber moving at a different pace with different personalities.
- In the House of Representatives, freshman representatives are often limited in the number of bills they're allowed to pass during the legislative session. This is an unofficial rule that can hurt your bill for no reason.
- In the House of Representatives, authors who are at conflict with the Speaker of the House have less support in navigating their bills through the legislative process.
- Legislators with long tenures and strong reputations are the best authors for most pieces of legislation.
- Do not burn bridges if a legislator declines as bill author. Their influence is present throughout the entire legislative process.