This is the first in a blog series about being an effective advocate at the Capitol. We encourage all Raise Your Hand Texas members to voice your support and concerns when it comes to issues that affect you, your children, your public schools and communities.
Countdown to the 84th Texas Legislative Session
Part 1: Interim Charges
The working schedule of the Texas Legislature often is viewed as feast or famine.
During the legislative session, which runs from January through May of every odd-numbered year, our elected officials work around the clock – sometimes literally – to pass legislation and determine the state budget for the next two years, or the “biennium.”
The 84th Legislature kicks off on Jan. 13, 2015, and bills and budgets passed during those 140 days will shape Texas state law and spending for fiscal years 2016 and 2017.
For the year and a half that follows the legislative session, most part-time legislators return to their “real jobs” back home, yet their staffs remain on the job at the Capitol in Austin and at local district offices to address constituent concerns, research issues/future bills, and coordinate local events for members to attend.
While it’s true you can hear crickets in the back halls of the Capitol shortly after a session ends, the period of time between sessions – referred to as the “Interim” – and especially the six to nine months leading up to a new session, provides great opportunities for members, staff and the public to beef up on issues that are important to Texans.
Enter interim hearings
During the year prior to a new session, each standing committee of the Texas Senate and House meets to discuss important topics called “charges” that the Lt. Gov. and Speaker have assigned. The interim charges are often a preview of bills and budget items that will be up for consideration during the next session. House committee charges can be found here. Click here for the original list of Senate charges, and here for additional charges Lt. Gov. Dewhurst announced on April 8th.
Interim hearings give the legislators a chance to “air out” these proposed ideas before the mad rush of the session begins, when committee hearings often overlap and it’s impossible for every member to study about every bill.
Hot interim issues
In the House and Senate public education committees, which are of highest concern to Raise Your Hand Texas, topics to be discussed this interim include implementation of House Bill 5 (2013), virtual schools and school turnaround.
The good news is everyone can play a part in interim hearings; they are usually scheduled with plenty of notice, unlike session hearings, so it’s easier to make plans to attend. Here are the links to meeting schedules for the House and Senate education committees. If you’re really interested, you can even set up alerts to be notified when future hearings dates are set. Visit the Texas Legislature Online to set up an account and your preferences.
Watching hearings is a great way to see what members, invited expert panelists and the public have to say about bills at your convenience. There has already been one House Public Education Committee hearing this interim, and you can access archived footage of it (you’ll just need RealPlayer downloaded to your computer).
The next scheduled education-related interim hearing is the Senate Education Committee’s hearing on April 14th at 10 a.m. to discuss testing and House Bill 5 implementation.
And even better than watching a hearing is participating in one! As a member of the public, you are welcome to testify before a committee on any issue important to you. Stay tuned for a future blog in this series with tips about constituent advocacy, including how to effectively testify or register your position for a particular issue.
We know the legislative process can seem overwhelming at first. But don’t be intimidated. Your legislators want to hear from their constituents and your voice can make a huge difference. And Raise Your Hand Texas is here to help. The easiest first step is to subscribe via email for news, updates, and ways to get involved.
If you have questions, post a comment below and we’ll be sure to respond.