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Hey, Texplainer: What does it mean when legislators talk about first, second and third readings?
For a bill to become a law, each chamber must hear it three times. The House or Senate clerk will read the bill for the first time — by caption only — when it's introduced to the floor, and the speaker or the lieutenant governor will then refer it to the appropriate committee.
Members first hear public testimony on the bill in committee. They may offer amendments or substitute the bill with another version. The committee can either take no action, produce and distribute a report about the bill with recommendations, or it can approve the bill and send it to the House or Senate floor for second reading.
The second reading includes just the caption, too, and it is usually the first time most representatives and senators consider a bill. Members can debate the measure, and they can add amendments — with the backing of a simple majority — to the bill on second reading. This point is when much of the excitement in the chambers occurs, and amendments can drastically alter what a bill does.
If the bill is approved on second reading, it moves to either third reading or engrossment. The two mean essentially the same thing. If it's a House bill being read for the third time in the House, it's called engrossment. Once that bill goes to the Senate and moves through the committee and first and second reading process in that chamber, it advances to the final, third reading. A vote is then taken. Members can again propose amendments during third reading, but they need a two-thirds vote for approval, and those changes are fairly uncommon.
If there are differences between the versions of the bill approved by the House and Senate, the legislation is sent to a conference committee made up of lawmakers from both chambers. They hammer out a compromise and produce a committee report, which is a final version of the bill and goes to both chambers for one last vote. If the bill passes, it goes to the governor.
The state Constitution requires bills to be read on three separate days, but each chamber can suspend the law with a four-fifths vote — a common practice in the Senate — and conduct both the second and third readings on the same day.
Bottom line: The first reading is just an introduction, the second reading is when the action happens, and the third reading is for final passage. And really, there are six readings, three in each chamber.
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