March 6, 2017
I had a lot of fun recently talking to the good folks of Texas Impact for a video about the importance of testifying before legislative committees. Inexplicably, they left some of my best advice on the cutting-room floor, such as this gem: No interpretive dance at a legislative hearing.
It might work at Austin City Hall but my colleagues in the Legislature just don’t seem to appreciate policy statements via dance. I know. You’d think people who can dance around addressing the school finance system or do the hustle on where people go to the bathroom would appreciate such testimony. Go figure.
If you believe deeply in an issue or a bill, feel free to express yourself in other ways. Testifying at the committee hearing is one of the best ways to ensure your voice is heard, and this video is a great resource for anyone who’s new to the legislative process.
As I say in the video, the most effective testimony typically comes from your experience. You don’t need to know all the jargon and statutory citations. Just tell us why you’ve been compelled to come have your say. That’s more powerful than a roomful of high-priced lobbyists.
Prepare to be at the legislature the entire day. I wish we could better schedule when witnesses would be heard, but it just all depends on how business is running that day.
The volume of calls and letters coming into my office is off the charts, far exceeding past legislative sessions. I’m very pleased about that. Folks want to be heard — and we’re happy to listen.
Student letters from Pillow Elementary in Austin ISD
I’d also recommend signing up for a Texas Legislature Online account and start tracking legislation you care about. You can track bills on lists and set up alerts for those bills so you can track them through the legislative process. There are some helpful tips here.
You can also find organizations you trust and join their legislative alert groups. They’ll do the work for you and let you know what bills to watch and why. They also do a lot of organizing around specific bills and will tell you when to call or write your legislator or when you could testify at a committee hearing.
Don’t get disappointed if your call, letter, or testimony didn’t change someone’s mind or stop a bill. You are participating in the civic engagement process, and everything worth fighting for takes a little time.