When a bill is sent to committee, the process of reviewing the contents of the bill and deciding if it should be approved or rejected begins.
If the committee decides to reject the bill, it may be reintroduced in another session. However, if the committee approves the bill, it must then be voted on by the full House of Representatives or Senate.
Before a vote can be taken, the full body usually debates the merits of the legislation. At this point, supporters and opponents make their final arguments as to why or why not to approve a bill.
However, when a committee chair places a bill in what is known as “in limbo” by The Texas Tribune, then there is no more debate. The bill is simply left in that committee without any further action taken.
This article will explain how this happens and why it happens.
When does a chairperson pigeonhole a bill?
When a committee chairperson decides that a bill will not move forward to the next stage, they will “pigeonhole” the bill.
This means that they will place the bill in a special file or drawer where bills that will not be considered are stored. This is typically done when the legislation is not compatible with the chair’s political views or with what other members of the committee support.
Sometimes, a chairperson may pigeonhole a bill because they do not believe that there is enough support for the legislation. If the chairperson believes that there is no chance of passing the bill, they may choose to pigeonhole it.
Regardless of whether a bill has enough support or not, if the chairperson decides to pigeonhole it, then it is over. The only way for a bill to be reconsidered is if the new committee chairperson chooses to pull it out of the file and consider it again.
How does this affect the bill’s progress?
When a bill is “pigeonholed,” it means the bill is never heard in committee. The bill’s author may ask the committee chair to reconsider moving the bill to a hearing, but this does not always work.
If it does not, then the author may try to move the bill to another committee for consideration. If that committee does not hear the bill, then it must be re-written and started all over in that legislative body.
Sometimes committees will have a number of bills they are considering at one time that are similar. In these cases, the committee chair may decide to “stack” their bills, or put all of them on the agenda for discussion at one time. This can help expedite some legislation!
If you see your legislation listed on the calendar for a meeting but is not discussed, then you should talk with the committee chair about why that is and what you can do about it.
What happens to the bill?
When a bill is pigeonholed, the bill dies in committee. The committee does not vote on the bill, and it does not move to the next stage in the legislative process.
Sometimes, a chair will do this because they want to stop a certain piece of legislation. For example, if a gun control measure was coming through the natural resources committee, the chair could decide to pigeonhole the bill because they disagree with it.
Other times, a chair may do this because they agree with the bill but think that it is not ready for committee debate yet. They may choose to hold on to it until it is ready for debate.
Regardless of why a chair does this, it is not uncommon and happens at different stages of the legislation process.
Is there any way to get a bill out of pigeonhole?
Not unless the chair of the committee changes his or her mind. Once a bill is in the pigeonhole, it remains there until the next legislative session.
If a bill is not passed out of committee by the deadline, it cannot be heard again during that session. It is then lost, and must be re-filed during the next legislative session.
Some bills are so important that lawmakers will rush to pass them before the deadline. If a bill does not receive enough attention, however, it may end up as lost legislation.
There are some cases when a bill is so important that lawmakers will vote to extend the deadline to pass it out of committee. This is only done in extraordinary circumstances, however.
To learn more about how bills move through committees, click here.
Who decides whether or not to release a bill from pigeonhole?
When a committee chair chooses to keep a bill in the lowest priority, it is called “pigeonholing” a bill. This name comes from the tradition of putting bills in boxes called pigeonholes, which are organized by priority.
The highest priority bills are placed in the first pigeonhole, and then down the line until the lowest priority bills are placed in the last one.
When a committee chair decides to keep a bill in his or her committee, it typically means that they do not believe it is ready to be taken up by the full House or Senate just yet. It could need more work before it is ready for consideration.
Sometimes, though, it is because the bill conflicts with something else that is being worked on in the chamber. In these cases, keeping the bill in committee may be done as a way to avoid conflict with other legislation.
What is the process for releasing a bill from pigeonhole?
When a bill is released from the Calendars & Companion Bills Committee, it is then sent to the Judiciary & Criminal Justice Committee for further consideration.
If a bill is approved by the Judiciary & Criminal Justice Committee, it is then sent to the House Floor for a vote. If it is not approved by the committee, it can be sent to the Calendars Committee for reconsideration.
The Calendars Committee has seven business days to consider a bill that has been referred to them by the Speaker of the House. If they do not consider the bill during that time, it is automatically discharged and sent to the House Floor for a vote.
This process can be tricky, as bills can be accidentally discharged from consideration. The Calendars Committee Chair carefully monitors the time left on each bill’s consideration and sometimes must ask for an extension to give more time to consider each one.
Why would a chairperson choose to keep a bill in their office?
When a committee chairperson chooses to keep a bill in their office, it can be for a couple of reasons.
Sometimes, the legislation is too similar to other bills in their committee. In this case, the chairperson can choose to keep the legislation in their office until there is a related bill that comes through their committee.
Other times, the legislation may not be quite ready for consideration. If the chairperson thinks there are improvements that can be made, they may keep the bill until those changes are made.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, keeping a bill may be done as a form of pressure. Sometimes legislators push bills as part of negotiations in other bills. The chairperson may choose to keep the bill in order to use it as leverage later on.
What types of bills are commonly kept in pigeonhole?
In the Texas Legislature, committees have a limited amount of time to consider bills. As a result, committee chairs have the authority to keep certain bills in what’s called a “pigeonhole” until a later time.
These bills can be kept in the pigeonhole for several reasons. For example, a chair may choose to do this if they feel that further study is needed or that there isn’t enough time to consider the bill.
Sometimes, bills are kept in the pigeonhole because they are related to another bill that has passed or is about to pass. In these cases, the bill may be kept in the pigeonhole until the other bill goes into effect.
Either way, bills can remain in the pigeonhole for a few days, weeks, or even months depending on when the appropriate timing comes around.