87th LegislatureState HouseTexas House Faces Midnight Deadline to Pass Their Bills With Just Weeks Before Session Ends

A deadline looms as Texas House members scramble to push through their legislation before the clock strikes midnight.
and May 13, 2021
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Not even the Texas legislature is exempt from the power of deadlines, especially one of the most notable in Texas politics — the 122nd day in each legislative session. It denotes the last point at which the Texas House can consider legislation that originated in its own halls. 

Once the clock strikes midnight tonight, every House bill not passed will perish.

Any legislation that started in the House and has not been set for consideration Wednesday or Thursday, such as the casino gambling legislation that Chairman Chris Paddie (R-Marshall) left pending in the House State Affairs Committee, is officially dead and cannot be considered until 2023 unless Gov. Greg Abbott happens to decide it warrants a special session before then.  

“No other house bill or joint resolution shall be considered on its second reading after the 122nd day of a regular session if it appears on a daily or supplemental daily house calendar, or for any purpose after the 123rd day of a regular session,” reads the House Rules for the 87th legislative session.

The only exceptions to that are to “act on senate amendments, adopt a conference committee report, reconsider the bill or resolution to make corrections, [or] pass the bill notwithstanding the objections of the governor.” 

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If the governor vetoes a bill, state representatives are still allowed to consider overriding his veto after the 122nd legislative day.

The next day, Friday, is the deadline to pass House bills on third reading — constitutionally, a bill must be read on the floor three times before it can pass.

It is one of many restraints the Texas Constitution places on the state’s legislature, whose power to pass new laws on their own terms is more or less limited to a two and a half month period of time. This firm check on the legislature gives birth to conflicts with the governor, especially during times of emergency such as the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, the Texas House on Monday approved their own limits on the governor’s authority during disasters.

The day also represents one of the last chances for House members to approach the well to showcase bills that fulfill campaign promises they made to their voters before primary opponents begin to announce their candidacies — if they haven’t already. State representatives may also use the deadline to speak from the back microphone, another powerful venue in the chamber from which lawmakers often confront ideological foes. 

First established in 1993 during Pete Laney’s first session as Speaker of the House, the 73rd legislature set the new deadline to avoid the last-minute, sine die bum rush to pass bills at the midnight hour. When that rule was established, however, the deadline was set at day 123.

On day 26 of that session, Reverend John Payne offered a prayer in which he referred to that and the other newly set deadlines, stating, “Lord Jesus, as we pray for the members of this body, its officers, and all those who share in its labors, we remember that thou was never in a hurry and never Jost your inner peace even under pressure greater than we shall ever know. But we are only human. We grow tired. We feel the strain of meeting deadlines, and we chafe under frustration.”

The journal for the previous session shows the House passed nearly 50 bills and over 20 resolutions on sine die — legislation that had no chance of moving through the Senate.

In its modern iteration, the deadline has become something of a spectacle. Those in the minority look to stall time — a process known as “chubbing” — while those with fleeting hopes to pass their legislation push toward the finish line.

Last session’s second reading deadline featured multiple notable casualties. Chief among them was Rep. Matt Krause’s (R-Fort Worth) “Save Chick-fil-A” bill which fell victim to a point of order by Rep. Julie Johnson (D-Carrollton). Another casualty was an Abbott-backed excise tax on e-cigarettes and vaping products.

A bill to watch on Thursday is Krause’s HB 1399 that would prohibit the use of puberty blockers or conducting gender reassignment surgery on children.

Some number of bills for whom the bell tolls, both large and small in scope and importance, will meet a quick fate once the clock strikes midnight.

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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.