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.

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.