by Nakia Winfield
It is a strange time for the Legislative Study Group at the Capitol right now. Our committees have been assigned to us, but there are no bills to research. We still attend the meetings and listen to invited testimony as people considered to be authorities are testifying. This is meant to provide a baseline or framework so when bills come through, committee members are aware of the current climate in that field. It is our time to observe positions, make connections with people who are experts in their field, and witness the process of how policy is made. We start getting into good self-care habits so that we can fall back on them when things really get going. We discuss the surprising things that we learn in committee, with our other policy analysts- ‘Texas is running out of water’, ‘The definition for success of a school program is that students are getting over 37% on their tests’, ‘Texas is determined to cut taxes this session, it just depends on which one’, ‘Texas is the only state in the union that doesn’t require employers to carry worker’s compensation.’
As social workers, many times, policy seems far away and intangible, but it is critical that we know what is happening and how to influence the process. Our clients are sitting at the intersections of inequalities and will be most affected by any policies that are implemented. We need to know how to best protect our clients from direct and side effects from legislation, and if possible, how to leverage legislation for maximum benefit.
There are not a lot of disadvantaged voices in the invited testimony for Natural Resources or Ways and Means, two committees to which I am assigned. This means that legislators are hearing over 6 times more testimony from fracking companies about how well they are doing, than they are from experts who do not agree. This means that almost every person who is testifying during Ways and Means is agitating for tax cuts and only one person has suggested that maybe we can use these surplus funds to bolster our roads and schools, or healthcare programs, or SNAP. This is the framework under which the legislators will be deciding bills and there are almost no voices who are not well paid or government connected. You, as social workers, are experts in your field. If you do not already, you will have aggregate knowledge about how these policies affect marginalized populations. You are the experts in the real life outcomes of decisions made at the policy level. The knowledge that you have is greatly needed on the floor.