One of my favorite move scenes is from the comedy Airplane. A stewardess has to take over flight operations for the incapacitated crew in a damaged plane. Looking over dozens of dials and gauges and complicated controls, and waiting attentively for her detailed flight instructions from the control tower, Finally she is told, “Land the plane.” The goal is simple — the process, not so much. So with respect to the legislature, all it takes to make a bill a law is to pass it in the House, then the Senate, and have the Governor sign it. Now to the details.
I started the development of my legislative package campaigning door to door to listen to constituents across the district. I visited 11,000 homes. My first task was to identify issues that were both important to the people I represented and ones I could impact as a State legislator. The primary issues included 1. Getting our economy moving, 2. Keeping government small, transparent and effective, 3. Helping education (especially the increasing cost of college), and 4. Increasing public safety.
During the campaign, I heard a lot of suggestions as to how I could impact these and, after wining in November, I put some ideas on paper. I then met with interested parties including educators, business professionals, other elected officials, police and lots of constituents. Out of this I put together an outline for each bill and submitted these the Legislative Council in Austin for drafting. We targeted specific bills for each of these goals. Goal 1 is met through HB 701, Goal 2 through HB 611, Goal 3 through HB 1268, and Goal 4 through HJR 86 and HB 1063. We have a number of other bills and you can learn more about them and follow their progress by visiting at www.house.state.tx.us
After taking office in January, and hiring a great staff, we started doing research on our bills. We answered questions like What had other states done? Has this idea been tried before in Texas? Who are our likely supporters and opponents? Will this cost money or make money and if so for whom and how much? This research is still underway but most is accomplished before the bill is filed. You have to be ready for questions as soon as your bill is filed.
Bills filed are referred to a committee for action and then we go to work. I have to get each chairman to agree to hear my bill and allow testimony and a vote of the committee. I track chairman down on the floor, drop by their offices, send notes, and make calls. It’s like trying to get date with the most popular girl. They get lots of attention.
And after our hearing, we then have to convince the committee members to vote our bill out and send it to the floor. This pursuit is like that of the chairmen but now I have to woo seven to 11 members for each bill. Even if they like your bill, and you had a great hearing, they have to determine that his bill merits the attention of the full legislature. That is appropriately a high bar.
Getting a bill passed on the floor is like a hearing only now I have 150 people able to ask me questions, offer amendments, and speak for or against my bill. Plus, I have no witnesses. It is just me. We do lots of homework and will cover this step in more detail in an upcoming article.
Once past the House, all the same steps are undertaken in the senate. But each bill requires a Senate sponsor who will work your bill. This is a big ask and I put my bill’s fate in their hands. However, Senators need House sponsors for their bills so there is a lot of teamwork.
The final step, approval by Governor Perry, is not left to chance. We brief his office throughout the process. It takes 2/3rds to override a veto of his and often our bills pass too late to even have a veto process. So this homework starts early. We need his final approval.
Land the jetliner, or pass the law. It’s just as easy as 1,2,3.