Working with Our Senate Colleagues

Working with Our Senate Colleagues

150 150 Jim Murphy

You’ve been reading the last few weeks about our activities to pass bills through the House. But the work doesn’t stop there, as many folks know. For a bill to become law, it must pass both the House and Senate and be signed (or at least not vetoed) by the Governor. There are few hard and fast rules about how we work with the Senators since personalities dictate much of this and the issue at hand also makes an impact. Here is how I take on this work.

First, we need to determine which Senator would be the best “sponsor” of a bill. Keeping in mind that each senate bill must also pass the House, and they need their House sponsors, makes this easier. We need each other so everyone is inclined to help if possible. Sometimes, the selection is based on a Senator’s past work. Senator Dan Patrick has been a leader on reducing the business tax so I asked him to sponsor HB 701 which continues the expanded tax exemption for small businesses. On HB 2580, which continues a very successful small business capital fund, our Senate sponsor, John Corona was secured by the same businessmen who sought my help with their economic development program. Or on HB 2167, which limits government interference with small businesses, we sought the help of Senator Mike Jackson, who is a limited government advocate.

Coordinating our efforts is challenging. House and Senate members really don’t work on a day to day basis with each other and spend little time in each other’s committee meetings or on their floor. We read the newspapers and blogs to learn what they are doing and are very dependent on the robust rumor mill we have here. Information is indeed power.

We make extensive use of Senate staff throughout the legislative process since Senate offices are more fully staffed than in the House. While working directly with our peers is always an option, the Senators have larger districts and sit on more committees so their time is at a premium. Most of the day-to-day tracking takes place at the staff level.

Timing of our efforts is a vital element. In order to move a bill quickly through both chambers, bills often have a companion (identical) bill filed in the corresponding chamber. That lets a bill have a hearing, get voted out of committee, and get ready for a floor vote, without having to first pass the other chamber. This can save weeks of time and with only 140 days for a session, this makes a difference.

We also send information back and forth as we learn of changes that need to be made to a bill and opponents and supporters who took part in a hearing. Problems identified early on can usually be addressed successfully but those that come up at the end can be fatal.

Where we really count on our peers is in persuading their colleagues to support a proposed bill. Nobody knows the Senators better than one of their own and the same applies in the House. Making sure that your sponsor is fully committed to working the bill, addressing concerns, and rounding up votes, is critical.

Yes, the process is designed to be challenging and fraught with pitfalls that can stop a bill. And it should be. The laws we pass affect our liberty, safety, families, property, businesses, schools and more. It really should not be easy to affect 25 million people. The framers of our Texas Constitution believed that more government resulted in less freedom. Hats off to some wise Texans.