Texas Legislature Project – Part I The Texas Legislature is in session from January 13th thru May 31st (2015), and in this assignment, I want you to identify a bill that is of interest to you that has been introduced in either the Texas House or Texas Senate in 2015 (the 84th Texas Legislative Session— known as 84R) Put yourself in the shoes of a lobbyist—which is a person who is an advocate or opponent of proposed legislation and who makes contact with one or more legislators to encourage passage or defeat of a bill. Given this, you want to choose a bill that addresses a topic that you would both support and want to see passed—or—one that you would oppose and want to see defeated. The Assignment Title your write-up with the bill number and a very short description of the topic, e.g., “HB680—Flagpoles.” Bills will typically start with “HB,” which stands for “House Bill,” meaning a member of the Texas House of Representatives submitted the bill for consideration—or—“SB,” which stands for “Senate Bill,” meaning that a member of the Texas Senate submitted the bill. Give a description of the bill. Be concise but also provide some useful detail about the topic being addressed by the bill. Then report how far the bill has made it into the legislative process (so far). If the bill proposes to update a current law, be sure to explain what the proposed change is (i.e., what was the law before and how it would be changed). Most bills will “die” in a committee in the House or Senate; it becomes law if the governor signs the bill. It is likely that the bill you choose will not have made it to the governor’s desk for signature or veto, given that it is only March (2015). Also include contact information for the first author of the bill, as well as the legislator’s chief of staff’s name and email (if you were to contact a legislator’s office, you would want to start by contacting the chief of staff). Provide phone numbers for the Capitol and District offices of the legislator. If another student has posted a write-up on your topic, just choose a different bill— usually there are many bills that address different aspects of the same topic. Here is an example: I looked up a bill regarding the regulation of a flagpole in one’s front yard from the 83rd legislative session (in 2013). The regulator in this case was a Homeowner’s Associations (HOA) as opposed to the government. If at some point in your life, you buy a house in a neighborhood, most likely the neighborhood will have an HOA, and you will sign an HOA agreement, which will obligate you to obey the rules of the HOA and pay fines when you don’t. An HOA is like a private governing body. Here is my sample write-up. HB680--Flagpoles “I investigated the issue of Homeowners Associations’ (HOAs) regulation of flagpoles in the front yard of a homeowner. Some HOAs have banned flagpoles, even after the legislature passed a bill in 2011 to stop HOAs from prohibiting homeowners from flying a flag in their front yards. A bill was introduced in the Texas House, HB 680, and the bill made it through the entire legislative process. The bill passed the House with a vote of 146 in favor and 1 against, and it passed the Senate 31 in favor and 0 against—and the governor signed the bill into law. This was a noncontroversial bill—there was virtually no opposition to clarifying the 2011 law. What the legislature wanted to clarify was that homeowners are entitled to place at least one flagpole in their front yards. Still, the bill empowers HOAs to regulate the placement of flagpoles in a number of ways: the regulation of the number of poles, compliance with zoning ordinances, the illumination (lighting) of flags at night, and others.” First Author, Cindy Burkett (R-113) Burkett’s district office is in Garland, Texas. Her Chief of Staff is Allison Billodeau. email@example.com Capitol Office: 512-463-0464 District Office: 972-278-7276 How to Search for a Bill The Texas Tribune website provides a great resource for searching for bills, which it calls the “Texas Legislative Guide.” Go to http://txlege.texastribune.org/ to find the website. Once there, you will find a set of issues categories, named “Issues by Topic.” By clicking on an issue heading that might interest you, you can learn about what issues are currently being addressed by the Texas Legislature in 2015 and their associated bill numbers, if bills have been submitted relating to those issues. Some of the issue categories are: the environment, social issues, energy, budget and taxes, and several others. You can also search for bills by category under the “Find Bills” heading on the same website (http://txlege.texastribune.org/). There are probably 30 or more categories in which you can search for specific bills. You could also search the web for articles on bills introduced in the 2015 legislature. If you choose this approach, try to find the bill number (e.g., HB 151 or SB 205) because eventually you have to use the bill number to get detailed information on the bill. Again, the Texas Tribune (www.texastribune.org) is a great resource, but there are many others, one being the Houston Chronicle (www.chron.com). How to Get Information on a Bill Once you have a bill number, you will want to get more information about the bill. At this stage of the legislative process (early March 2015), you will probably have to get information by searching the Texas Tribune website or a similar website that reports on the Texas Legislature. However, you might try the Texas Legislature Online (TLO) website as well, (http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/). TLO will provide you with information on where the bill is in the legislative process, e.g., if it has been voted out of committee, if it has been voted on by the entire House or Senate or both. Let’s look at the “campus carry” bill as an example. There are two bills, one in the House (HB937) and one in the Senate (SB11). So first, go to http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/ and find the pull-down menu titled “legislature,” located near the top of the page, in the middle column. Then, chose “84R--2015” from the pulldown menu. Next, type-in HB937 in the dialogue box, located just below, and click the radio button for “Bill Number;” then click “Go.” The legislative history of the bill will appear under the “history tab.” As of early March (2015), HB937 hasn’t even been assigned to a committee, but if you go through the same search process for SB11, you will find that SB11 has been voted out of the State Affairs committee by a vote of 7 to 2, but the full Senate has yet to vote on the bill. How to Contact Information After searching for a bill on the TLO website, under the “history tab” (the first page to open after you do a search), you will find the authors of the bill. Choose the first author. For instance, for SB11, Birdwell is the first author. Then go to the Texas Tribune’s directory of elected officials: http://www.texastribune.org/directory/ . Click the link for “Texas Senate,” because in this case, we are investigating SB11, which is a bill submitted by a Texas senator named Birdwell. Find Brian Birdwell in the list of Texas Senators and click the link for his name. On the page that opens, you will find contact information for Brian Birdwell, which includes his Capitol and District office phone numbers, as well as information on and his Chief of Staff, Ben Stratmann (click on Stratmann’s name to get his email address). Here are some of my additional thoughts about this assignment. What’s interesting about the Texas Legislature is that it addresses so many issues, big and small. For instance, in the 2013 session, the Texas Legislature addressed issues involving abortion, the hours of operations for liquor stores, regulations of animal shelters, variable speed-limit signs, excused absences for teen parents who miss school, and many more. Be creative about the topic you choose. Choose a topic that you find interesting. It is likely a legislator filed a bill on the subject of your choosing.