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Texas Legislative History Research

A guide to walk you through the process of compiling legislative history of Texas legislation

What is a Bill File?

A bill file is the official collection of documents that are produced during a bill's journey through the legislative process. One typically finds these documents using the “Text” tab on TLO or LRL sites. Types of documents include:

  • Bill versions, including companion bills and adopted amendments
  • Bill analyses
  • Fiscal notes
  • Witness Lists (from committee hearings)
  • Committee reports

An example of documents listed in rough chronological order (for a bill that starts in the House):

  • Introduced version
  • House committee report with vote sheet and bill analysis
  • Engrossed version (passes one chamber)
  • Senate Research Center (SRC) bill analyses
  • Senate committee report with vote sheet
  • Senate amendments printing
  • Conference committee report with side-by-side analysis of House and Senate versions
  • Fiscal notes
  • Enrolled version (passes both chambers)

A bill is introduced in the House or Senate and may be referred to a committee. Committees may hold hearings on the bill (participants found in Witness List), amend it or substitute another draft, and vote on whether to report it favorably out of committee. A committee report is prepared. (In the House, it can take a day or more for a bill to reach the Calendars Committee after being reported out of committee.) Bill analyses and fiscal notes analyzing fiscal impact from the Legislative Budget Board are also produced. 

In the House, bill analysis by committee staff (or the Texas Legislative Council by request) in a committee report includes background information on the proposal, information on what the bill proposes to do, analysis of the content of the bill, a statement of any substantial differences between a complete committee substitute and the original bill, and a brief explanation of each amendment adopted by the committee. The author of a bill may also include an author's statement. For more information, see the Texas House Rules Manual for a given legislative session.

In the Senate, the SRC prepares a bill analysis on every version of every Senate bill, the engrossed version of House bills that reach the Senate, and on every enrolled bill; an analysis includes five main sections: Digest, Purpose, Rulemaking Authority, Section-by-Section, and Summary of Committee Changes. For further information on the types of bill analyses, please see the Legislative Reference Library webpage on Bill Analyses.

When the bill reaches the House or Senate floor, debate and further amendments may occur. If it passes, an engrossed bill is sent to the other chamber. The other chamber generally follows the same process. (Senate amendment printings are prepared for House bills returned from the Senate with changes. The printing includes the House engrossment version of the bill, the Senate committee substitute if one is adopted, and all floor amendments adopted by the Senate.) If amendments by a second chamber are not accepted, a conference committee meets with members from both sides. A conference committee produces a unified bill, showing markups, and a report. 

Once it passes both chambers, an enrolled bill is sent to the Governor. The Governor typically has 10 days to sign or the bill becomes law automatically. However, if the Legislature sends a bill to the Governor when there are fewer than 10 days left until final adjournment, the Governor has 20 days after final adjournment to sign the bill or veto it. Otherwise, it becomes law without a signature. If vetoed after the Legislature has adjourned, the bill dies.

Changes to a bill's language as it passes through the legislative process may shed light on legislative intent, hence compare the different versions found in the bill file. When reading a bill version itself, if it is amending a current section of the code, new language that it is proposing will be underlined.

Committee hearings (although Witness Lists may be available) and floor debates are not included in the bill file; see Step 4: Hearings/Debates for guidance on locating transcripts (rarely available) and recordings of hearings and debates. House Research Organization (HRO) Bill Analyses are also not included in the bill file; see Step 5: Other Documents for help locating them.

Where to Find Bill Files?

Search Example: Online

In Step 1, your search led you to find the bill number using the session laws; the bill number was House Bill 3249 in the 80th Legislature. In this case, a bill file for a bill from the 80th Legislature can be searched on the Bill Lookup section of the Texas Legislature Online website.

An image showing the interface of the Bill Lookup portion of the Texas Legislature Online webpage

Once you enter your bill information and click submit, you will be directed to a complete history of the bill. To see the bill file documents, click on the "Text" tab at the top of the page. 

Sample image showing the layout of an online bill file

Proceed to Step 4: Hearings/Debates