Bills, Bills, Bills
An appreciation of the sixty days' rule.
The calendar says that the Eighty-third Legislature began on January 8, but insiders know the real action doesn’t begin until 59 days later. Oh, there are plenty of speeches and resolutions during the first two months, recognizing groups like the Texas Association of Health Underwriters and celebrating Matagorda County Day. But the tone changes today, March 8, the filing deadline for most bills and joint resolutions. Without suspending its rules, neither chamber can debate a bill on the floor prior to that date; afterward, the machinery of passing (or, more than likely, killing) legislation kicks into gear until the session ends, on Memorial Day. The system is designed to give lawmakers plenty of time to consider bills in committees—and to keep controversial measures from arising late in the game and clogging up the process. As of this morning, more than six thousand bills and resolutions have been filed, ranging from the serious (Senate Bill 182, which would permit concealed handguns on college campuses, or HB 5, which would dramatically alter the testing regimen in the public schools) to the frivolous (House Bill 778, which would require the University of Texas and Texas A&M football teams to play each other every year, or HB 1533, which would allow people to purchase weapons and ammunition tax free on Texas Independence Day). Now, the political jostling will begin: the pointed questions from other members; the art of delaying debate, known as chubbing; and the invocation of POO (points of order, often intended to derail a bill). And to those legislators whose efforts don’t succeed, take heart: as the late Fred Agnich, a longtime Republican representative from Dallas, once said, “Hell, we’ve got too much damn legislation anyway.”