by Katherine Kirages, intern in the Texas Legislative Study Group
It has officially been a little over a month that my UH Graduate College of Social Work classmates and I have been living in Austin, attending countless trainings and meetings and exploring the Texas Legislature. Sometimes it feels slightly surreal to come to work every day in this building and be able to not only witness, but have a part in contributing to, what is likely one of the most politically charged moments in our recent history. As national news coverage floods our social media feeds, and our smartphones notify us of every emerging headline from our favorite news apps, it’s somehow still unavoidable at times to feel as if we’re living in a bubble here in the legislature.
As this is our first session working at the Capitol, information is of no short supply. We’ve spent the last four weeks preparing for what is expected to be one non-stop learning experience. Most everyone we meet at networking events is excited for us to begin our work, and has some sage advice for how to balance committee meetings and writing bill analyses. The reputation of working for Rep. Garnet Coleman in the Legislative Study Group supersedes any preconceptions I had about working at the Legislature, and it is that reputation that inspires me to fully immerse myself in the legislative process in order to do my job effectively. It also certainly helps that Executive Director Ana Ramon and consultant Phillip Martin, a former executive director of the LSG, facilitate incredibly informative and interesting speakers to meet with our group.
While we’re waiting for committee assignments (Note: House committee assignments were just made on February 9. Students have not yet been assigned committee responsibilities), we have had opportunities to practice writing bill analyses, do research, and compile information and state statistics about a range of socioeconomic issues. This information will be used to see where Texas ranks nationwide for our report, “Texas on the Brink”. We are also beginning to write position papers on current legislation that reflect the LSG’s perspective on what is best for Texas families. Although I’m looking forward to diving into committee hearing upon committee hearing, the practice we’re doing now is a valuable opportunity to reinforce our purpose here, and I appreciate the chance to get our proverbial feet wet.
Utilizing social work skills in this political arena has proven to be straightforward thus far; for the most part we’ve interacted with agencies and individuals that tend to share social work’s core values of service and social justice. As evidenced by recent Senate floor hearings and the current political climate of our nation, maintaining a perspective rooted in social work values and ethics can not only prove to strengthen the intent behind our work here at the Texas Legislature, but also to reinforce the crucial role the social work profession plays in policymaking and advocacy. It is with that conviction that even on the much-anticipated sleepless nights, the invaluable experience gained will far outweigh any momentary exhaustion, and can even serve as evidence to advance the involvement of social workers within local and state government.