Fall has arrived and a few things can be expected: cooler weather, the holiday season, and November elections. In even number years, we can also expect presidential or gubernatorial elections and preparations for the next legislative session. However, we have learned there is nothing normal or usual about 2020! One thing is certain, however: the months before a session begin to get very busy.
We are now weeks away from what is expected to be a high turnout presidential election cycle despite the pandemic. There are a few important election deadlines approaching. The deadline for registering to vote is October 5th. To register, you can print out a form from the Secretary of State’s “VoteTexas.Gov” website and then mail before the deadline. You can also check your registration status at the same site. The website also has other useful information such as your local polling locations.
Early in-person voting will begin on October 13th and run through October 30th. Under Texas law, if you meet certain criteria, you can also vote by mail, specifically if you are out of your home county on election day, are sick or disabled, or over 65 years of age. To vote by mail, the absentee ballot request must be RECEIVED by your local election clerk by October 23rd. In most cases mail-in ballots must be received by election day, November 3rd.
At the capitol, a major part of preparation for the upcoming session involves the work of the interim committees charged with delivering reports to the legislature before it meets in January. Due to public safety concerns during the pandemic, few interim committees nor the Texas Sunset Commission have had public hearings. It is generally believed that the committees would issue reports without public input. However, there are rumors that some interim committees may attempt to have some form of public hearings this fall. How those meetings will proceed, especially regarding public testimony, is still to be addressed, but it would be welcome news for the issues of concern to TTA. We are watching events closely and are ready to proceed if interim hearings are posted.
Another important date pertains to the early filing of bills before the next legislative session. By rule, both the House and Senate allow for the pre-filing of bills to begin the first Monday after the general election before the next session. This year, that day falls on Monday, November 9th. Whether to file bills before a session begins is a matter of preference and strategy, with benefits and drawbacks to both approaches.
Obviously, filing early gets your bill out in the legislative arena early and gives you time to work with stakeholders. However, it also gives opponents time to work against your proposal. For most legislators, this decision is made on a bill-by-bill basis, with most having a mix of bills filed before and during session. In a typical session, less than a fifth of all bills are pre-filed. For example, last session, some 1,000 of the roughly 7,000 bills filed were filed before session began. Many bills are simply not ready before session begins, often because they are waiting to be drafted by the Texas Legislative Council, need more work, or have not found an author to carry them. As a result, many pre-filed bills are bills that have been filed in previous sessions. Nevertheless, come November 9th, the TTA bill review team will be reviewing and preparing for every bill filed prior to session!