Texas Senate Changes the Rules of Engagement for the Second Called Legislative Session

August 26, 2021

Legislative News

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The second special session of the 87th Legislature began at noon on Aug. 7. The House of Representatives at the time still did not have enough members present to constitute a quorum, but the Senate once again proceeded full steam ahead.

The chamber wasted no time and made sure everyone watching knew that the senators intended to move at a breakneck speed. On the first day of the session, Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) made a “tag rule” motion and also introduced Senate Resolution 1. Through these two vehicles, the Senate made significant changes to its processes and procedures for this special session. These two changes apply only to bills heard during the current special session, and they will not carry over to another special session or to the next regular session in 2023.

Schwertner’s motion in writing removed what is known as the tag rule. Senate Rule 11.19 specifies that upon presentation of a written request to the secretary of the Senate by any senator, the member is entitled to receive at least 48 hours’ written notice of the time and place of a public hearing on a specific bill or resolution that has been referred to a Senate committee. This rule has been used as a delaying tactic by a senator opposed to a particular bill. As a practical matter under this rule, if a committee chair sets a bill to be heard and does not give 48-hour notice, the bill is not “tag-proof,” and senators can request that they be given the requisite notice, forcing the committee chair to post another hearing. Schwertner’s motion carried, meaning that for this special session, a bill cannot be tagged.

The Senate then passed Schwertner’s SR 1, which provides that a Senate committee is not required to hold another public hearing on a House bill that contains the same subject as a Senate bill that has already been heard in the same committee. Again, this rule change applies only to bills heard during the current legislative session. If a bill on the same subject was heard in a prior legislative session, that is not enough to fulfill the public hearing obligation. This rule is similar to, though it could have a much broader impact than, House Rule 4, Section 11, which specifies that notice is not required for a public hearing or a formal meeting on a Senate bill that is “substantially the same” as a House bill that has previously been the subject of a duly posted public hearing by the committee.

After passing SR 1, the Senate then suspended Senate Rule 11.10, requiring 24-hour notice before a committee hearing and promptly announced three committee meetings for that same day. At the time of publication, the Senate has passed 15 pieces of legislation that were all named by Gov. Greg Abbott when he called the second special session. They involve election integrity, bail reform, education, border security, social media censorship, youth sports, family violence prevention, abortion-inducing drugs, a 13th check for retired teachers, critical race theory, primary elections, employment, property taxes and legislative quorum requirements. Importantly, Senate Bill 10 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), which would restore funding to the legislative branch, and Senate Bill 1 (also by Nelson), which would provide for supplemental appropriations, were left pending in the Senate Finance Committee and likely will be used as bargaining chips for the remainder of the special session.

For more information about this article, contact Amy Befeld.