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Bills make their way to committees at the Capitol this week, the first step toward possible passage

Gabriel C. Pérez

The vast majority of bills don’t make it anywhere close to being signed into law. Of the more than 6,000 bills filed in both chambers last legislative session, fewer than 1 in 6 made it through, according to the Legislative Reference Library of Texas.

A number of bills introduced in the current session will advance a big step closer to the finish line this week as committees in both chambers begin holding meetings, considering the proposals within their jurisdictions.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán, who covers the Capitol for the Texas Newsroom, said committees will discuss and possibly amend bills before deciding whether to pass them along to the full chamber.

“That’s the important part of this committee, because they are, in a way, gatekeepers,” he said. “Once the bill is discussed in committee and it’s amended – many times these bills are amended – the committee can choose to do two things: either to do nothing, which would mean, arguably, that the bill would die there. Or you can write a report on the bill pretty much stating that the committee supports the bill and would like for the full House or the full Senate to pass it. And then the bill goes to the consideration of both chambers for a vote.”

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Martínez-Beltrán said there are a few bills going to committee this week that he finds particularly interesting.

“The Senate Committee on State Affairs will discuss a piece of legislation that would increase the penalty for illegal voting from a Class A misdemeanor to a second-degree felony,” he said. “Tomorrow, the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee will discuss a bill that would allow lawyers in a capital death case to ask a judge to hold a hearing to determine if the defendant has an intellectual disability – and if a judge makes that determination, under this bill, the defendant would not be able to be sentenced to death. And on Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice will discuss a joint resolution that would amend the Constitution to allow judges to deny bail for those accused of violent or sexual offenses.”

Once a bill is passed through a committee, the next step is the consideration of the entire House and Senate. Martínez-Beltrán said there are a couple of things he looks for to gauge how likely a bill is to make it to the finish line.

“One of the things that I check is whether their proposal has any co-authors and whether there’s a companion bill in the other chamber,” he said. “If a bill was filed in the Senate, there should be a similar bill filed in the House. But besides that, I’m also paying attention to the discussion in committees about these bills. Is there any opposition in this case from the majority, the Republicans? What about the interest groups pushing for or against the measure? And also, are the bills lining up with the priorities of the House speaker and the lieutenant governor?”

However, Martínez-Beltrán clarified that just because a bill looks likely or unlikely to pass does not mean that will be the outcome.

“One thing that I’ve been told over and over by my editors is that even then, a bill is not dead until the Legislature adjourns sine die on May 29,” he said. “So there’s quite some time for things to move forward or be decided.”

Martínez-Beltrán said he has his eye on the bill that would ban the death sentence for those with intellectual disabilities and the bill covering bail reform. Both seem to have bipartisan support, he said.

“But I think it’s too early at this point” to say what will pass, he said. “And like I said, the language of the bill that we’re seeing now is going to be very different by the time it passes committee, and by the time it passes the House or the Senate, if it gets to that point.”

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