The 88th legislative session ends May 29, and the pace is already picking up.
Bills are going before committees in both the House and Senate before some are voted on by the entire chamber. Lawmakers have proposed thousands of bills related to K-12 and higher education, border security, taxes and other issues.
Throughout this legislative process, members of the public have various opportunities to provide comments on the bills they care about. And you’ve heard it repeated often: Contact your representative; make your voice heard. But how exactly does one do that when the Texas Legislature is in session?
Megan Menchaca, who covers higher education for the Austin American-Statesman, said the process of testifying at the Capitol is actually pretty straightforward. The first step is to find out when the bill is going to be heard in a committee hearing, she said.
This information is available at the Texas Legislature’s website. Click on the “committee meetings” under either the House or the Senate – depending on where your bill of interest is – to find details about when it will be discussed, and if they’re taking public testimony.
“If you’re interested in following a specific bill, you can create an account on the website to get email alerts for bills, progress or when a specific committee meeting is happening. So you’ll be aware of when you’ll need to attend,” Menchaca said. “Once you know when a committee is meeting, you’ll want to head to the Capitol on that day and register to testify at one of the touchscreen kiosks in the Capitol extension.”
If the bill you want to speak on is in the Senate, you may also have to fill out a paper witness card, but that’s a simple online process that can be done the same day, Menchaca said.
“You’ll typically get 2 to 3 minutes to testify at a committee hearing. It should say on the agenda how long people have and depends on which committee is meeting,” she said. “However, after your testimony, lawmakers have the option to ask additional questions, which means you may have additional time to speak.”
For those who can’t make it to Austin to testify, there is often a virtual option.
“At certain committee hearings, Texas residents can submit electronic comments on the bills listed on the meeting agenda. If that’s something you’re interested in, you can check the meeting agenda for a link to submit comments virtually,” Menchaca said. “You can also voice your opinions by calling a lawmaker’s office at any time to register your support or opposition to a bill.”
Menchaca also said that if you are unable to make a specific committee hearing but can make it to Austin, you can schedule an appointment with your representative or another lawmaker to discuss the bill and share your thoughts.
And while it is hard to predict exactly how individual testimony will impact the legislative process, it does help give lawmakers new information.
“It is a fact that state lawmakers just can’t be experts on every single issue that comes up before them in the dozens of committee meetings they’ll attend. And they may not have considered how a bill will impact you or your community unless you speak up,” Menchaca said. “Experts on the lawmaking process told me it’s particularly valuable for legislators not just to hear whether someone agrees or disagrees with the bill and why, but to hear a personal anecdote or story that illustrates how that bill would affect them and why they care about whether it should become law or not.”