How To Lookup Texas Laws Online

In this post, we'll explore how to navigate the state's official website where you can track new and old bills. If the Texas state website is updated, we'll try to update this page as quickly as possible to reflect the current site.

Table of Contents

After spending months learning the ins and outs of this website as a lowly intern, I thought it would be a good idea to add this page that shows you how to find Texas bills (past or present), the history of the bills/laws, and the really valuable hidden information that requires the right series of clicks to access.

The official website for finding Texas Laws is https://capitol.texas.gov. If you travel there and your browser does not look like this (see image below) then you did something wrong or your browser is having issues. The rest of the article is going to assume that you did not have any issues and you were able to find this page fine. Also, despite it’s 1990s looking appearance don’t be fooled, there is a tremendous amount of information accessible from this page and if you don’t learn how to navigate the site you’ll have to rely on others (including us) for your information.

The home page for the Texas Legislature online.

How To Find Relevant Bills

Select the dropdown menu under legislature and click the relevant year you’re looking for. We’ll get into terminology in subsequent sections but just know that the first number, in this case 87(R), stands for the 87th session and the R stands for a regular session. In certain years, there will be special sessions that are indicated by a number in the parenthesis.

Now that you’ve got the right year selected, you’ve got two options: if you’re looking for relevant literature around a certain issue, then you just have to select “word/phrase” and put the relevant term in the search box. Hitting “go” on the search below will return all bills in the special session of 1992 in which marijuana occurred in the bill. Also note, that in many of the Texas legislation bill summaries “marijuana” is spelled “marihuana.” A thorough search of the legislation will want to include both terms (we know, it’s annoying).


Tracing A Bills History

Now that you’ve found relevant bills, we’re going to show you how to get into the more useful parts of the site you’ll need to dig deep into the law. Let’s say you did the search for “Marijuana” in the 87th session. You should see the following results.

Clicking the down arrow on the search results pulls up the following popup menu.

You’ll want to remember this:

History pulls up an overview of the bill. It will tell you who sponsored the bill, who authored the bill, who co-sponsored the bill, and the bills current status. More technically speaking, this page is going to tell you which house and senate committee were assigned to the bill. In another post we’ll discuss why this is critical, but just know that bills often never make it out the first committee they go to and the determining of who is on a relevant committee is a key part of understanding the process.

One more note on the history page, you may see a bill that says “enabling legislation” and then a reference to a completely different bill. Think of enabling legislation as a bill that establishes an agency that will then enact the bill in question. For example, in an attempt to make gambling legal in Texas a bill proposed the establishment of an agency to be called “Texas Gaming Commission”, in order to regulate gambling.

Finally, clicking on the tab “Bill Stages” provides a very quick and useful way to see the status of a bill and, ultimately, what became of it. Remember there are seven stages to the passing of a bill and the website will mark each stage with a green checkmark if the bill did not pass and a red “x” if that’s where the bill died. If the bill is still alive but not completed the next stage, the box indicating that stage will be purple.

When do the laws become effective?

Unless otherwise indicated, Texas laws become effective on the “91st day after the date of final adjournment of the session in which it was enacted.” Some bills will specify a different effective date on the page, with several bills (depending on the circumstances) becoming effective immediately.

What do these letters and numbers mean?

Alright let’s keep it simple. Each bill heading on the search result page has four parts. The session in which bill appeared, the chamber (house or senate) in which the bill was first presented, the version of the bill, and what type of document the search result is. Let’s do an example:

87(R) HB 3174 – Introduced Version – Bill Text

A sample snippet.

In this example, 87 means it’s the 87th session (which corresponds to the session in 2021). The (R) in parenthesis means it’s a regular session and not a special session. The “HB” means that the bill was first introduced in the house. If the bill is introduced in the Texas State Senate, then there will be an “SB” (for example: SB 1461). The “introduced version” means it’s the way the bill is when it was originally introduced. Finally the “Bill Text” means that if you click on it, the site is going to send you to the bill text. There are other types of documents however.

Bill: The text of the bill. If it’s the introduced version of the bill, that is to say the original version of the bill, it will look like the above example. Otherwise the bill has been modified in some way.

Fiscal Note: A note on how the proposed bill is going to impact the economy and state’s fiscal situation.

Bill Analysis: A commentary on the bill usually by one of the oversight committee. For example, here is a bill about the need for Marijuana reform in 2005 that comes curtesy of the Campbell Education Committee. This is an oversight committee appointed by the Governing Board to “oversee the expenditures and uses of bond and parcel tax revenues, and report findings to the public.” Theoretically they are impartial citizens who could be anyone in the community that want to serve their community. That’s where the concern lies as being a member of an oversight committee is a two year position that pays nothing.