Staying on Top of Texas Politics

The 2021 Texas legislative session (#txlege on Twitter) runs from January 12 through May 31! Use capitol.texas.gov to follow along: view proposed bills, get alerts when action happens, and more.

Being involved in the legislative session includes knowing what is on the table, when it’s being acted on, and who to contact. The legislature’s website is a bit clunky, but it has quite a lot of useful tools to help you with all three of those pieces.

Texas Legislature Online homepage with key features highlighted
The Texas Legislature homepage and some key links.

What is the Lege doing?

During the session, there’s always a lot of media attention and analysis, but in addition to that coverage, you can go directly to the legislature to see all proposed bills and read the actual text.

To see potential laws that the legislature is considering, go to Legislation, then Reports. You can run a report in a lot of ways: all the bills that have been filed, bills by subject, just bills from a particular date or by a particular legislator, and so on. Make sure that you’re searching in the 87th session (2021).

Bill search options on the Texas Legislature website
Detailed options for finding proposed legislation.
“Today’s Activity” and other general report options on the Texas Legislature website
More general reports on legislative activity.

Read a proposed law by clicking on a bill’s “Text” tab and then choosing pdf, html, or Word doc to view it.

Options for viewing a bill’s text on the Texas Legislature website
Each bill has a page containing full text, legislator information, a status update of actions taken, and more.
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Despite marriage equality being the law of the land, Texas still has a lot of needlessly heteronormative language in its laws; SB 129 is a 2021 bill that would update some of it. Read the full text of SB 129 here: https://capitol.texas.gov/tlodocs/87R/billtext/pdf/SB00129I.pdf#navpanes=0

When will action happen?

The 2021 legislative session runs from January 12 through May 31 (and possibly further, if the governor calls a special session after that). The legislative process starts with a lawmaker filing a bill, which then goes to a committee (a small group of lawmakers tasked with a particular topic, such as health, education, or transportation) for discussion; if the committee decides that the bill is worth continuing, it is then brought to the full chamber (either the House or the Senate, whichever it was first filed in) for a vote. If the bill passes that vote, it goes to the other chamber for another vote. Finally, the governor either passes it into law or vetoes it. (There’s more back-and-forth discussion than that, plus the potential for amendments to the original text, but that’s the general flow.)

So there are a lot of small movements for each proposed bill before it can become law, and these movements can happen either slowly or quickly, often without much notice. In order to be proactive rather than reactive, and to contact your representatives at a relevant point in the bill’s process, you need to know when something is happening to your bills of interest.

Useful #txlege tip: By making a “My TLO” account (it’ll just need your email address and a password), you can get email notifications when action is taken on bills that you want to follow.

Texas Legislature homepage with top-menu item “My TLO” open, showing options “Bill Lists,” “Alerts,” and more
My TLO provides tools for keeping track of what’s happening in the legislature.

To make an alert, go to My TLO (you’ll need to sign in or make an account) and then Alerts. Add bills by number. “Category” lets you choose when you get an alert: when bill goes to committee, passes in the House or Senate, and so on. Selecting “Any category” means that you’ll get an alert for every action on the bill.

Bill alert function on the Texas Legislature website, showing “category” and “comment” options
Setting up bill alerts. Use the “Comment” field to add a note about the bill’s topic.

If you want to keep an eye on bills without getting automatic alerts, use Bill Lists under My TLO. It’ll save bills that you add, and you can choose to run a report at any time to see the status of each bill:

Custom bill lists on the Texas Legislature website, showing how to use the “run” button to get a report
Use the “run” button to generate a report showing the status of each bill on your list

You can also access legislative calendars to view upcoming agendas:

Calendars page of the Texas Legislature website with an arrow to its location in the top menu
See what’s on the docket for both chambers of the legislature.

Who do I talk to?

There are several people in the legislature who you can contact to express your opinion on potential policy. As a Texan, you have one state senator and one state representative; look up your legislators here. These two people directly represent you in the legislature — you (hopefully) voted in their election and you are their constituent, their boss in a sense (along with everyone else in their district). Contact them about any bill that you support or oppose.

Once a bill that you’re interested in has been sent to committee, you can also contact those committee members, who will decide whether the bill moves forward to a full vote. Hundreds upon hundreds of bills are filed each session, but lots of them don’t make it out of committee; these folks are the gatekeepers, and your feedback helps them make their decision.

Find committee information here, and contact those people in support of or opposition to a bill before it moves further along.

Committees page on the Texas Legislature website, with an arrow pointing to its location on the top menu
The Committees page lets you look up who is on each committee, which committees your own legislators belong to, and when different committees are scheduled to meet.

There is a mobile version of the legislature’s website — www.txlegis.com — which has some limitations but also makes a couple of things easier. It looks like this:

Mobile interface for the Texas Legislature website, highlighting “Committees,” “House Witness Registration,” and livestreams
Mobile version of the Legislature site, www.txlegis.com

The “Committees” tab is helpful for pulling up the phone numbers of committee members when you want to express your opinion on a bill. It takes a few taps to get to an office number, but it’s simpler than on the desktop site. The livestreams are also a useful tool.

Meeting with Your Legislators and Testifying In-Person

During non-pandemic times, the public can visit legislators in the capitol in Austin, and testify (provide a public comment) in person during legislative actions. As of right now (January 11, 2021), it’s not clear how the Legislature is going to operate with coronavirus precautions. Will there be in-person, public meetings? Will we be able to provide testimony via videoconference? Some combination of those methods?

We’ll just have to wait and see. In normal times, however, you need to register in order to provide public comment. For the House, you to sign up at a kiosk or via a mobile device connected to the capitol wifi; for the Senate, you need to fill out a paper card, usually located in the hearing room. It can feel intimidating, but it is absolutely your right as a Texan to testify, and it matters.

Remember, the Texas legislature represents us — participating in our government is our right & duty! Let’s make our state better together.

Ideas communicator. Museum nerd. (Former museum educator!) Robot enthusiast. Nature observer.

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