LBJ School roundup at the Texas Legislature 2019 | LBJ School of Public Affairs | The University of Texas at Austin

The 86th Texas Legislature runs from Jan. 8 to May 27. While lawmakers, including LBJ School alumni, debate bills and bring policy to life, our students and faculty are working both behind the scenes and in front of the camera at the State Capitol. These LBJ School students, professors and researchers are delivering public testimony, informing politicians, reporting with the media and even interning in senators’ and representatives’ offices.

 

LBJ Professor and former State Representative Sherri Greenberg on the priorities of the Texas Legislature

Transcript: Every session of the Texas Legislature is unique as far as its priorities. Last session, social issues were very much the priority — and in fact were priority in special sessions during the summer. In this session of the Texas Legislature, it's really those bread-and-butter issues, I would call them — and in particular school finance and the property tax, which as I say, are joined at the hip. What's interesting is that the Texas Legislature is taking up school finance and there's not a court order. Traditionally, the Legislature's only taken up school finance when there was a court order, and the schools were going to be shut down. But this time it has become a priority.

So the top two are the property tax — and by that, capping the local property tax — and school finance. But because of the way we finance schools, they really are joined at the hip. Beyond that, there are many other priorities among members. It could be criminal justice, it could be children's issues. But two other big priorities overall are mental health — and that was an issue last session, too, that did start to come to the surface. And in addition to that, disaster relief — particularly with what we've seen in Houston. That continues to be an issue and continues to be a finance issue.


#TXLEGE IN THE CLASSROOM: Professor Sherri Greenberg's class on Texas legislative process coupled with an internship at the Texas Legislature


LBJ IN THE NEWS: The Texas Legislature kicked off earlier this month. Now what? (The Daily Texan, Jan. 22, 2019)

 

Sherri Greenberg on public testimony

Transcript: When I was a state representative I had the opportunity to hear many types of testimony from committees that I was on or a subcommittee or committee of House Appropriations, when I chaired the pensions and investments committee and when I chaired the interim committee on teacher health insurance. Of course, the type of testimony that resonated depended on the subject matter. First and foremost, your testimony must be relevant to the bill or the subject matter that is before the committee. That is extremely important, and beyond that, it is very important that you provide accurate data. Good information, good research — that's your currency and your credibility, and it is extremely important.

When I was at the Legislature, many times there were people who came before me in a hearing and I may not agree with the ideology of that researcher or that faculty member or interest group, but what was important is that I realized that I was getting good information with sound data, and that's very important for decision-making.


LBJ IN THE NEWS: How to testify before the state Legislature (The Daily Texan, Feb. 12, 2019)


"Good information, good research — that's your currency and your credibility." —Sherri Greenberg, professor, LBJ School


WATCH: LBJ Professor Michele Deitch testifies before the House Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee


"If you want to have an impact on public policy in Texas, you have to build relationships with legislators and their staff over the long term. You need to be available to answer questions and be a resource to them and testify when they want your expertise. Policymaking is a relationship business." —Michele Deitch, senior lecturer, LBJ School


LBJ IN THE NEWS: Member Spotlight: State Rep. Vikki Goodwin (Impact Austin, Feb. 12, 2019)


#TXLEGE IN THE CLASSROOM: Former Harris County Judge Ed Emmett leads new "Inside the Texas Legislature" series at LBJ School

LBJ IN THE NEWS: Michele Deitch on independent oversight of the prison system (Houston Chronicle, Jan. 25, 2019) Independent Oversight Bills include HB 363 and SB 188.

[See more of Professor Michele Deitch's work on prison oversight]

 

Sherri Greenberg on the legislative process

Transcript: The Texas Legislature meets biannually, every other year, for six months. From around the middle of January to June 1. During that time, there are many bills that are filed. Not all of them, of course, are considered. But for a bill to be considered, it must have a hearing. The speaker of the House refers bills to committees in the House, and the lieutenant governor refers bills to committees in the Senate. Then the chairmen of those committees decide whether or not a bill's going to have a hearing.

If the bill is having a hearing, this is an excellent opportunity for subject matter experts and researchers and academia to be able to provide that kind of research and expert testimony. Watching the bills and when they're arising is an excellent opportunity to go before members of a legislature in either a hearing in the Senate or the House. Academics can sign up to either in person provide expert testimony or in writing. Occasionally, there may be members or staffers who will reach out. In fact, many times, this happens to academics asking for that subject matter expertise.


LBJ alumnus and state rep. Gene Wu provides #TXLege updates on Twitter:

 

Sherri Greenberg on the Legislative Council

Transcript: The Texas Legislature has staff and it's a professional legislature. It also has a couple of agencies that are part of the Legislature and legislative council is one of those agencies. It's nonpartisan. Think of legislative council as the law firm for the Legislature. And there are many legislatures who have an entity similar to legislative council — lawyers or some entity that does the bill drafting for them, the law firm. Also, there is a legislative budget board and the legislative budget board is the budget office or budget staff for the Legislature, again nonpartisan. So think of the legislative budget board as being similar to the congressional budget office, the nonpartisan budget staff.

Both of these entities — the legislative council and the legislative budget board — are agencies and additional staff to help members of the legislature. The legislative council actually, as I said, acts as a law firm and drafts the bills. There's not really a lot of interaction with the legislative council and academia because they are the lawyers drafting the bills. Now, if leg council, I'm sure, had a specific question, then lawyers may reach out to others in the legal community or with a factual question, they would get back to the member of the House or Senate whose asking for the bill to be drafted. If there's a problem with the law in it, they would discuss that.

With the legislative budget board, the legislative budget board actually is the budget staff for the members of the House and Senate and for House Appropriations and Senate Finance. And the members of the Legislature work closely with LBB, particularly the members of the Legislature who are on House Appropriations and Senate Finance. But they're available to all of the members. And the staff in the LBB are assigned according to subject areas so that they can be experts, whether it's licensing or health and human services, education. They help with the analysis of the budget and through the appropriations process. They work with the Appropriations Committee in the House and Senate finance on the actual bill. There are hearings that they assist with before the subcommittees of House Appropriations and Senate Finance and the committees as a whole and there's more I think, interaction in a general sense with subject matter experts with the legislative budget board.


#TXLEGE IN THE CLASSROOM: Professor Michele Deitch on advanced juvenile and criminal justice policy and the legislative process


#TXLEGE IN THE CLASSROOM: LBJ School Lecturer, Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith on politics and issues of the Texas Legislature

 

Sherri Greenberg on when a bill becomes law without the governor's signature

Transcript: In Texas, we have a rather unique situation when it comes to the governor and bills. The governor can sign a bill and it becomes law, the governor can veto a bill and it's dead, or the governor can let a bill become law without his or her signature. Why would a governor do that? Well, vetoing a bill is a pretty serious measure, but you could have a situation where the governor doesn't want to veto the bill but the governor also is not enamored with the bill. So what I say is when the governor lets the bill go without his or her signature, it's like the governor is holding his or her nose.