Note: Texas’ 86th Legislative Session – and the University of Houston’s Graduate College of Social Work’s 2019 Austin Legislative Internship Program – concluded on Monday, May 27. Both will convene again in January 2021. Over the next few days, we will be posting concluding blog posts from several interns as they reflect back on their experiences this session.
by Gracie Cuevas, intern in the office of Rep. Jessica Farrar
What is change? Change, a verb meaning to make or become different or a noun meaning the act or instance of making or becoming different is, first of all, subjective. What everyone wants to see change and what change looks like for everyone, is ultimately different.
I came into this University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work legislative internship eager to participate in the place where change happens, not knowing how naïve the expectation was. Change doesn’t come easily, as there are many other dynamics involved. Therefore, to see change happen in the Texas Legislature is much more complicated than I could’ve imagined.
Before starting this internship, a common expression I kept hearing from those that knew about the legislative process was, “the system is designed for failure,” but I didn’t really understand what that meant. Well, I understand now. And I’ll try to break it down as briefly as possible.
The legislative session in Texas last 140 days and is held every odd-numbered year. So, the next session after this will be in the year 2021. As Kayla has previously pointed out in her blog post, the bill process is one of hurdles and competition. If and once a bill makes it out of its House of Representatives committee, the bill goes into ANOTHER committee, the Calendars Committee. Calendars committee members are who decide when, and if, the bill makes it to the floor for all of the representatives to vote on. And, if the bill does make it to the floor, the members have to vote on it, not once, but two times, for 2ndand 3rdreading. If the bill (as you can see there are a lot of ifs involved) receives enough yesses on the 2ndand 3rdreading, then the bill can go to the other chamber.
Oh yes! There are TWO chambers in which a bill must make it through (so basically, bills have to go through this same process twice). And there’s more. If the Senate and House each make changes to a bill, they must then come to an agreement on the changes. If the Senate and House don’t initially agree, the bill goes to a “conference” committee comprised of House and Senate members, where agreements are worked out. If agreements are worked out, and if the agreements are made before the day session ends, then the bill can finally be sent to the Governor. BUT! Even if the Governor receives the bill, the Governor can either sign it, or veto it.
Keeping in mind that even though the legislative session is 140 days, members only meet for about four days a week during the first three months or so, so technically, bills have less than 140 days to make it through this entire process. Exhausting, long, and tiresome, right? Which is why I think in order for change to be attainable, somewhere, throughout the process of change, there has to be passion, perseverance, and predominance.
I think back to the Women’s suffrage era. The right of women to vote came after decades of activists advocating for change. Many who started the movement didn’t even get to see the end result, but activists persevered nonetheless. Not only is perseverance needed to keep going for so long, but there needs to be passion as well, the intense desire and enthusiasm to accomplish your end goal as the absence of passion would make persevering difficult to do. The third important factor that I believe needs to come into play, is predominance. The possession of power and/or being greater in number. For example, in the Texas House of Representatives, Republicans hold the majority (83 Republicans, 67 Democrats). Despite the many arguments from Democrats against bills like Senate Bill 22 and Senate Bill 1978, both bills still passed due to a majority vote from Republicans. Democratic members showed passion and perseverance when attempting to stop these bills from moving forward, but despite this, Democrats did not hold the predominance.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that, yes, change is a hard and frustrating process, but having the passion and perseverance can help you hold on until the predominance is present. I see now why it’s important to not give up and to keep fighting for what you care for and what you want to see changed.