Texas Legislature expected to speed up after tonight’s bill filing deadline

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After months of bills being added to the pile of legislation senators and representatives intend to consider, the rising number will come to a halt today at 7 p.m. Marking 60 days of session, this deadline will prevent filing of most new bills and sets the stage for the remaining 80 days while the Legislature is active.

Sherri Greenberg, clinical professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and former Texas legislator, said the House of Representatives and Senate will speed up their processes as session deadlines approach in May.

“It’s a very compressed time frame, so it will become very frenetic,” Greenberg said. “It’s a race to the finish.”

As of March 8, the Legislature contained 5,183 filed bills, composed of 3,565 in the House and 1,618 in the Senate. The total number of bills filed at this point in the session is up 9.9 percent from what it was two years ago during the 84th session, according to data from the Legislative Reference Library.

Legislators can start filing bills two months before the session starts during the prefiling period in November. While more than 470 bills were filed in the first seven hours of prefiling on Nov. 14, legislative reference librarian Sally Harlow said thousands of bills are typically filed during the last week before deadline.

“It’s their last chance for two years,” Harlow said. “You can only get so many bills filed in a day, and (legislators) are filing as many as they can.”

According to Article III of the Texas Constitution, the Legislature focuses on addressing pending legislation rather than introducing new bills after the 60th day of session. Some bills can still be introduced after this period in special circumstances such as emergency matters submitted by the governor.

As of Feb. 23, 1,838 bills were referred to committee and 35 were scheduled for a hearing. Harlow said bills often die in the first set of committees without being heard because of the fast-paced nature of the Legislature.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 46 states meet annually. Texas, along with Montana, Nevada and North Dakota, conduct sessions during odd years only. Harlow said the Legislature meeting only once every two years contributes to the frantic nature of the system.

“It’s not unusual at all to have all-night meetings and hearings because they have to fit everything in,” Harlow said. “It gets frenzied.”