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How to Make a List of Bills to Track in the Texas Legislature

The Texas Legislature only meets for 5 months every 2 years. Due to the condensed time frame, the sheer volume of bills can be dizzying, and covering them and knowing what fresh hell the Texas GOP and the mega-wealthy lobbies behind them are trying to push through can be hard to keep track of.

We’re doing our best to keep the process out in the daylight. First, have a look at our Intro to the Texas Legislature Online here, get familiar with the site, and create an account.

Once you’ve created an account, create a list of bills you’d like to track. Here’s how:

1. Navigate your web browser to the Texas Legislature Online:

http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/

2. Click on “My TLO”.

3. Click “Bill List”.

4. You’ll be prompted to sign in. If you haven’t already, create an account – it’s simple to do, just make sure you use a secure password and that the email account you use has Two-Factor Authentication enabled.

5. Enter a name for your Bill List and a brief description. Then click “Create”. You should then be able to Edit your Bill List.

6. Enter the numeric name of the bill you’d like to track in the left field and a brief description for your own reference (Such as, “HB1261” and “We support-would prohibit charter schools from discrimination against students on basis of their discipline history in admission policy”)

7. Once you’ve entered your desired bills, click “Save”, then click “Run”. You may then download your list of bills as a pdf if you’d like.

And that’s it! You’re up and running. Let us know how it goes in the Comments!

As always, be sure to like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter.

How to Testify at a Texas Legislative Committee Hearing

In Texas, mega-wealthy industrial lobbies have bought and paid for most of the GOP candidates at every level of our state government. This is a fact. These lobbies install hard-right extremists who vote the way they are instructed to by the lobby think tank, the shadowy industrialists get their rich friends rewarded, and their political arm–the Texas GOP, which exists only to do the bidding of the rich and powerful–stays in power.

But things are changing. And citizen activists terrify these people. Participation is fundamental in taking Texas back. But we can’t win if we don’t show up.

A huge component of showing up entails physically going to the capitol and testifying at a committee hearing. We’ll be doing this a lot.

However, most people have never provided testimony before a Senate or House Committee. Many of us are conditioned to equate things that are new with things that are uncomfortable or scary. Not to worry!

Donna Howard put together a wonderful infographic with steps on how to testify at a Texas Legislative Committee Hearing, and we thought we’d post on this subject and help demystify what this process is like and what you can expect. You can do it! In fact, you must.

For quick reference, you can quickly find upcoming Committee Hearings page at the Texas Legislature Online, under Committees. The most controversial bills are typically sent to the State Affairs Committee in both the House and the Senate.

Before the Hearing

  1. Know when to testify – Track bills, issue areas & committee hearings by signing up for alerts at http://www.capitol.state.tx.us. We keep track of harmful legislation here, and we’ve got a post that walks you through how to use the Texas Legislature Online here if you’d like to make a list of your own bills to track. You should also follow us on Twitter for up-to-the-minute updates about what’s going on with certain bills, and when we’ll be at the capitol to testify, where committee hearings are taking place, etc.
  2. Make sure you can testify – Many committee hearings allow public testimony, but some only allow invited witnesses. Check the hearing notice!
  3. Practice your speech – Testimony is generally limited to 3 minutes. Prepare 2-3 minutes of comments, and run through it a few times.

Getting to the Capitol

  1. Parking near the building – The Capitol’s Visitor Parking Garage is located at 12th & Trinity, but it’s just as easy to park on the street around the capitol. We use an app called ParkX whenever we have to park downtown in Austin–you can just link a debit card to the app and “feed the meter” from your cel phone, without having to go back to your car. There’s metered street parking around the capitol, so you might consider bring quarters. We haven’t had any problem finding a spot on the street lately (even during SXSW), but it’s a good idea to give yourself a good 15 minute cushion before registration begins to find parking.
  2. Getting to the capitol – There are entrances on the north, south, east, and west sides of the capitol. The security checkpoints are there for everyone’s safety; don’t let the state troopers carrying machine guns intimidate you! The troopers are really quite friendly. I mean, it’s Texas y’all.
  3. Find the kiosks – You’ll find electronic kiosks–essentially iPads in a black plastic frame–near each of the committee hearing rooms. This is where you will register to provide testimony. The interface is simple–it’s a web-based form that you enter your name, address, and then you’ll denote whether you’re testifying “On” (neutral), “For”, or “Against” the bill.
  4. You don’t have to give spoken testimony – Remember that the kiosks will give you the option of registering support or opposition without providing testimony. So even if you aren’t planning on staying through the entire Committee hearing, it’s always good to get down to the capitol and register your support for or opposition to a bill.
  5. Get comfortable – Arrive early, but expect to stay late. The sessions are unpredictable. Some hearings are short, but some can be very long.

When It’s Your Turn

  1. How it works – Generally, your name will be called and you’ll be invited to the podium. State your name, who you’re representing, and whether you are for, against, or “on” (neutral) the bill. For example, “My name is Mary Ross, I’m representing myself, and I’m here to testify against the bill.” Simple, we know, but many folks forget this part only to have the committee chair interrupt them.
  2. Be nice – Your testimony can be passionate, but always be respectful.
  3. Be concise – You’ll probably only have 2-3 minutes, so make it count!
  4. Be personal – Tell the Committee how this legislation will impact you, your family, and your friends. Tell your story.
  5. Bring copies – If you’re providing written copies of your testimony (for example, you may have data and supplemental material that backs up the points you’re making in your testimony), the Committee will ask for 20 printed copies. At the beginning of your testimony you can just say “I’ve provided written copies for all the members of the Committee to supplement some of the points I’ll make in my testimony today and I’ll be glad to distribute those” and a page will distribute.
  6. Follow up – Email the committee members to provide additional information. You can find them here: http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/Committees/Membership.aspx

You did it!

Thanks to Donna Howard and her team for making this excellent infographic! Here’s the original infographic. Let us know how your testimony goes in the comments below.

How To Track Bills in the Texas Legislature

The Texas Legislature only meets for 5 months every 2 years. Due to the condensed time frame, the sheer volume of bills can be dizzying, and covering them and knowing what fresh hell the Texas GOP and the mega-wealthy lobbies behind them are trying to push through can be hard to keep track of.

We’re doing our best to keep the process out in the daylight.

But this is y’all’s movement after all, and knowing how to keep tabs on your State Representatives and Senators is crucial. Here’s how:

1. Navigate your web browser to the Texas Legislature Online:

http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/

2. You’ll see an Input Field. Here you can search for a specific bill, follow the status of a bill, search the text of a bill, or do any number of things.

3. To keep things simple, you may wish to create a Bill List – a running list of pieces of legislation you’d like to track this session.

4. On the TLO home page, in the top left corner, you’ll see a Navigation Item called “My TLO.” It’s right next to “Home.”

5. Click on My TLO. Create an account if necessary – it’s simple, just make sure you use a secure password and that the email account you use has Two-Factor Authentication enabled.

6. Once you click on My TLO, your browser will open a page that looks like this:

Texas-Legislature-Online-My-TLO-Page

7. We’ve found that the most useful tools are Bill List, with which you can create a list of bills to track, and Alerts, so that when a bill moves or something’s happening with a bill at the Legislature you’ll get an email update for that bill.

And that’s it! You’re up and running. Simple. Let us know how it goes in the Comments!

 

 

Hang in There; Friday is Coming

Tomorrow, March 10th, is the sixtieth day of this Texas Legislative Session. That makes it the last day most kinds of new bills can be filed.  In other words, the flow of fresh hell in the form of shockingly bad legislation should slow way down.  And both the Texas House and Senate have adjourned until 2 pm on Monday. (There are committee meetings scheduled for Monday morning.)

Of course, you can still call their offices tomorrow.

And you should.  Several bills you may care about have been moved out of committee and to the Senate as a whole for second reading on Monday.  In lege talk, this means that these bills are up for debate and amendment on the Senate floor for the first time.  (First reading is when bills are introduced and then sent to a committee for review.)  The following bills are on the “Notice of Intent,” the agenda, for Monday.

SB 6 (the so-called bathroom bill)

SB 8 (bans most donations of fetal tissue for research; bans some forms of abortion by dilation and extraction, sometimes dishonestly called partial-birth abortion)

SB 258 (adds a new notice form on the option of burial or cremation for the “unborn child” as part of the already existing notices a woman seeking an abortion must be given; requires doctors to keep the notice for seven years)

SB 415 (bans abortion by dilation and evacuation, dishonestly called a dismemberment abortion)

When you do call your senator, you may want to remind him (all but eight of them are men) that women have a Constitutional right to abortion; both dilation and extraction and dilation and evacuation are very safe procedures; and the decision on which form of abortion is best is one that should be made by the doctor caring for the patient, not a bunch of senators who don’t even know the right names for things.

More on all of these bills can be found here: http://txlege.indivisible.blue/act-now/actions-for-the-week/

SB6: “Bathroom Bill” Action Item Update – Public Hearing March 7th

SB6 Public Hearing

On Tuesday, March 7th, the Legislature has a public hearing scheduled on SB6, Dan Patrick’s wildly unpopular, and utterly pointless “bathroom bill”.

The hearing begins at 8 a.m. in room E1.012 (in the Capitol Extension, underground). Click here for a map of the Capitol complex and here for a map of the Extension so you know exactly where you’re going. Testimony will run through most of the day. We need to fill the gallery.

Make a plan for how you’re going to get there, and give yourself a good 10 to 15 minutes to find parking.

Book Drive

Actions for Americans has organized a book drive to educate our lawmakers on what life is actually like for transgender people and their families, and to buy a copy of the extraordinary book Becoming Nicole for Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick and every member of the Texas Legislature.

We need to hit this goal so that the books can be handed out at the Capitol on Monday, March 6th, during Trans Lobby Day.

Overcoming the fear of people who are different from us has always been one of humanity’s greatest struggles, but the fact is, all human beings deserve justice and dignity. That goes for everyone–black, white or brown; male, female or transgender; Muslim, Jewish or Christian. That respect for basic dignity is what our Constitution is based on, and that is what makes this country great.

The book drive is a vitally important step toward educating those who remain willfully ignorant–our Texas state legislators.

Donate now.

Action Item

Again, Dan Patrick and the GOP keep trying to use a widely debunked “bathroom predator myth” to nominally support this bill. There is 0 evidence for this claim. None. This is an absurd defense. You can’t isn’t even call it a logical fallacy. In reality, this bill is really a pretext to give the state and autocrats like Dan Patrick and Greg Abbott more power than local governments, but that is another discussion.

Right now it’s time for action.

  1. Call your State Senator, and call your State House Representative. They need to know that you are vehemently opposed to this legislation, and that you are watching them closely, with an eye on the 2018 Texas State elections. Click Not sure who that is? Click here.
  2. Call a friend or family member who lives in another Texas county. Discuss this issue with them. Ask them if they know who their state rep is. What has their legislator done for them lately that has really improved their financial situation? Are they aware that their legislator is probably bought and paid for by an industrial special interest? (I’ll be posting on dark money in TX politics later). It’s important that the culture of fear and disinformation our lawmakers willfully deploy is addressed in real time, with friends, family members, and neighbors. This is our state, not theirs. Don’t let them pit us against each other.
  3. Donate to the book drive. Texas legislators have tried to hide behind their own ignorance for long enough.

Click here if you’d like to read a the text of the SB6 bill itself with plain English annotations.

Click here to find your state rep.

SB21 Update: Convention of States Senate Vote Tuesday, February 28th

In addition to facilitating mass deportations and terrorizing hard-working immigrant families, another one of the “emergency items” that Governor Greg Abbott has pressured GOP loyalists in the legislature to fast-track to approval is that of adding Texas’ name to the roll call for a “Convention of the States”; recall that Article V Conventions are one of the mechanisms whereby the Constitution may be amended.  And on Tuesday, the upper chamber of the Texas Legislature is expected to approve Senate Joint Resolution 2 and Senate Bill 21 and send them to the House.

38 of the 50 states’ legislatures would be required to call such a Convention, and it’s important to note that in U.S. history, every single state except Hawaii has applied for an Article V Convention at one point or another. There’s no official count, but one private estimate has the count at somewhere around 700 attempts.

The author of the bill is State Sen. Brian Birdwell, a Granbury Republican; that’s US Congressional District 11 for those of you keeping track at home. (There’s no Indivisible chapter for District 11–yet.) In an interview in today’s Houston Chronicle, Birdwell defended the resolution by saying:

“I believe we’re at the precipice of history that we’ve not seen before. For years, we have watched the executive, judicial and legislative branches usurp more and more power from the states, issuing dictates that become de facto law.”

Before the Trump era, Greg Abbott and the Texan far-right used the perception of federal over-reach to rally the far-right against their perceived foe, President Obama. Now that their agenda aligns perfectly with Trump’s, why vote to have the Convention of States? When pressed on the issue, Abbott said it’s because “term limits.” We are extremely skeptical.

In other words, this could give Trump the power to amend the Constitution. That would be very, very bad.

(Editor’s note: Our initial characterization of Article V was inaccurate–if a Convention were called, Trump would have no official say, since 3/4 of the 38 voting members would have to vote for a Constitutional amendment to be made, and it would be the state legislature reps doing the amending. Nevertheless, call your reps anyway. As we’ve pointed out before, Abbott and the Texas Legislature are looking to outdo even the brazen stupidity and ignorance of the Trump administration. A Convention of States would give them that platform.)

In normal times, maybe we would probably just dismiss this as another crackpot scheme to grab headlines and stir up the base. These are not normal times.

Use this tool, call your State Senators and Reps, and just make sure they oppose Senate Bill 21 and Senate Joint Resolution 2.


UPDATE, February 28th: 

The Texas Senate gave its initial approval to a call for a Convention of States to consider amendments to the U.S. Constitution by a 20 to 11 vote on Senate Joint Resolution 2  today and this is now headed to the House.

The Senate also agreed to impose a state jail penalty on a legislator who violates his or her oath as a delegate to a potential national Convention of States to amend the U.S. Constitution.

We’ll keep monitoring it and are working on an automated tool that tracks the status of bills in the Texas legislature.

In the mean time, use this tool, call your State Representatives, and voice your opposition to Senate Bill 21 and Senate Joint Resolution 2.

SB6: Action Item Update for Monday, February 27th

Donate to Help Educate Texans on Trans Issues

Throughout history, one of the ongoing struggles we have always faced is overcoming fear of people who are different from us.

Our Texas lawmakers have a long way to go on that front. So Indivisible is helping to raise funds to buy 185 copies of a book called Becoming Nicole, to distribute to each of our Texas state legislators, Lieutenant Governor, and Governor.

The book tells the story of a family with a transgender child, their journey, and the science behind gender.

The book is outstanding, and we hope that it will educate both our elected officials and that Texans will hear about it and read it for themselves. If people actually understand some of what Trans people experience, they surely will oppose SB 6, the bathroom bill.

Don’t let Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, and the members of this legislature hide behind their ignorance. Please help us reach our goal.

Donate & Share: Help Texans Learn About Trans Issues

Show up: The books will be distributed as part of Trans Lobby Day on March 6 in Austin. More info here: Trans Lobby Day 2017

New data on the Trump effect in Texas legislative districts

This morning the Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek published a fascinating look at how district-by-district data suggests that Texas State legislative districts that traditionally elect GOP representatives all went to Clinton in the 2016 election, based on some newly available statistics.

District-by-district data suggests Dems might be able to go on the offensive in 2018 legislative races

From the article:

The question in those districts, like so many surrounding Trump’s election across the country, is whether the dramatic swings in 2016 were meaningful shifts that could have implications in future elections. That question is particularly pressing for the 11 Texas Republicans now representing districts that voted for Clinton, all of whom are up for re-election in 2018.

What this ultimately means going forward is that it is up to us. Yes, Texas is traditionally thought of as a deep-Red state. In reality, Texas would be more accurately described as a non-voting state.

If Donald Trump’s historical unpopularity doesn’t drive us to raise awareness of how crucial a role the state legislature and Texas state government is going to play is going to play–in gerrymandering Congressional districts, passing racist voter suppression laws, deporting millions of people and herding them into modern day internment camps, and doing away with basic civil liberties–then this will all have been a moot point. We have got to step up at the state level and fight back.

So my challenge for each visitor to this page is: talk to 3 people a day, in person, about voting for in the Texas state elections in 2018. Talk about where your representative stands on the issues.

Now is the time for Texans to demand that our state government listens to us, not wealthy GOP campaign contributors, not lobbyists, and certainly not the Trump administration.

SB25: “Eliminating the Wrongful Birth Cause of Action”

Quick take: If this is an issue you care deeply about, by all means call your representatives or testify at the hearing. There will be bigger battles ahead.

On Monday, Feb. 27 there is a public hearing at 9 a.m. in the Senate Chamber on Senate Bill 25 “Relating to eliminating the wrongful birth cause of action.” (“Cause of action” is a legal term which basically just means grounds for filing a lawsuit.)

This is an anti-abortion bill, no question. But it’s going to affect a very small percentage of women. The vast majority of abortions take place before information about potential fetal abnormalities would even be available. And SB25 doesn’t prohibit a doctor from providing information, nor does it completely protect one for withholding information.

It does shield a health care provider from one possible cause of action, but there could still be a cause of action for medical malpractice for any consequence other than abortion—like failure to provide proper prenatal care if the woman were at higher risk as a result. (For example, some spinal defects can be treated in utero.)

In other words, this bill is bad but not as bad as lots of them. Also, a woman has a legal right to an abortion with a few limits. A creative lawyer could sue on some version of denial of civil rights.

There is an argument based on fiscal responsibility to made against any bill that is almost guaranteed to lead to litigation. Huge amounts of taxpayer money has been spent on lawsuits because of legislation that is unconstitutional on its face.

Further reading:

Texas Senators Consider Wrongful Birth Law

Should wrongful birth lawsuits be permitted in Texas?

 

Protections for Trans Students Rescinded – Call Your State Reps

On Wednesday the Trump administration announced that it would be rescinding federal rules that simply allowed transgender students to use the bathroom that they choose.

So what does this announcement mean? It means that the issue is pushed back to the states, squarely into the court of Dan Patrick and Texas leaders at the local level, which is where lawsuits will likely begin.

So what are we going to do? There’s an excellent discussion of the brass-tacks way forward at the local-level here, but to summarize, this is going to require a lot of pressure on local and state lawmakers. In Texas, we can start by calling our state reps and demanding that they oppose #SB6. Aside from being needlessly cruel, there’s just no reason for it.

The Texas Tribune has an excellent, plain-English walkthrough of the language of SB6 here.

Find your State rep with this tool, and call them now.

A group called ‘Freedom Rising’ will be handing out “bathroom passes” to members of the Texas Senate today, February 23rd, at 12:30 p.m. to protest SB6.

There are also pro-transgender, anti-Trump rallies today in….

San Antoniohttps://www.facebook.com/events/1812874299035139/

Houstonhttp://www.transformhouston.org/united_against_hate_protecttranskids_rally?utm_campaign=transkids_rally&utm_medium=email&utm_source=houequality

and Dallashttps://www.facebook.com/events/183948632093196/

Also, just in case anyone still needs this to be repeated, there is no evidence whatsoever–ZERO–for the so-called ‘bathroom predator’ myth that Dan Patrick is using to support his argument for this bill. Dan Patrick’s stated goal of “keeping men out of women’s restrooms“, in short, is based on a lie.

The ‘bathroom predator’ myth has been repeatedly debunked–there’s an in-depth discussion on that here.

In fact, the bill has already been widely derided across the state by business owners, state and local law enforcement, and even the the Speaker of the Texas House himself, as wrong-headed, cruel and, just-plain-unnecessary. But now, with the Trump administration’s announcement that the decision rests with the states, it is not going away.

With an unabashed racist as Attorney General and no federal power to check them, Texas lawmakers have embarked on their own campaign of  brutal ignorance, emptiness, and cruelty, in the hopes of disguising shallow moral crusades they’re hoping to exploit for political and financial gains. By stirring up a far-right base, Dan Patrick and Greg Abbott want to ensure that the GOP is in power for decades to come. It’s time to fight back.