Welcome to downtown Austin, home of the Texas Legislature. Bills are filed, bills are passed, and from January to May every other year, the state’s elected officials work tirelessly at the capitol to create legislation and fund Texas priorities for the next two years.
If you have never followed a State Legislative Session before, you are in the right place. We are breaking down everything you would possibly need to know about the 88th session. Here are the basics of what you can expect from the Legislative Session throughout the next couple of months, what the Downtown Austin Alliance will be advocating for this session and how you can personally give your feedback on bills and find who your state representatives are.
State Legislative Basics
The Texas Legislature meets once every other year, so naturally, we were excited to welcome our neighbors back to Congress Avenue this January. For 2023, here’s what we are looking at in terms of our starting legislative lineup:
- Governor Greg Abbott: Elected independently. Has the ability to veto a bill, sign a bill or let a bill pass without a signature.
- Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick: Leader of the Senate. Is not a Senator and is elected independently.
- Speaker of the House Dade Phelan: Leader of the House. Elected as a State Representative and then selected by the members of the House of Representatives to represent the full chamber.
The “Big Three” above set the tone and are key in setting the priorities of the entire legislative session.
As for why we should care about the Legislative Session: it’s the only time that laws and a budget can be passed. Since they only happen during odd-numbered years, the 140 days of each regular session are jam-packed. For more information on how bills become laws and what role committees play in the process, the Guide to Texas Legislation authored by the Texas Legislative Council is an amazing resource with helpful flow charts and more.
Now that we have got the basics covered, let’s dive into what the Downtown Austin Alliance is most focused on this year.
Downtown Austin Alliance Legislative Session Priorities
The Downtown Austin Alliance’s Legislative Priorities for the 88th State Legislative Session focus on working toward our four long-term strategic priorities from the Downtown Austin Vision. With those goals for downtown in mind, here’s what our organization will be advocating for over the next couple of months to help us make those dreams our city’s reality:
- Increased funding for or access to behavioral health services for individuals experiencing behavioral health disorders, such as substance use disorders or other mental health disorders.
- Increased funding for or access to social services, shelter beds and/or permanent housing for individuals experiencing homelessness, as well as homeless prevention tools like affordable housing.
- Funding or other support for small businesses, with an emphasis on local, women and minority-owned businesses, including but not limited to increasing arts and cultural assets downtown, including live music venues, publicly visible art, theaters, museums and other institutions.
- Funding mechanisms that advance the design, construction, operation or maintenance of any surface-level enhancements for the I-35 Capital Express Central Project.
Supporting legislation that focuses on these topics will keep our organization on track to make the Downtown Austin Vision a reality. We want to make sure that we are always continuing to enhance the vibe and vitality of downtown through our work; focusing on these priorities, we can.
Want to stay connected? Keep up to date with the latest on Downtown Austin Alliance’s Legislative priorities on social media. We will post whenever there are opportunities for you to get involved and have your voice heard on the bills we are advocating for.
How You Can Get Involved
We are not sure about you, but we are in our “contacting our representatives because it’s cool to be politically active” era. Thankfully it’s super easy for you to look up who represents you if you are feeling the same way!
To find both your Texas House and Texas Senate representatives, simply head here and type in your address. To contact your Texas House representative, look them up and click on their name to see the various ways you can call them or beep them if you want to reach them. You’ll follow the same process to contact your Texas Senator. Many elected officials also have active social profiles as another way you can give them feedback, so if you are more social-savvy, that’s a great way for you to get involved.
What to Expect from the Rest of the 88th
This year’s “sine die,” or final day of the session falls on May 29, but the last day for legislators to file bills is March 10. You will want to make sure that you keep an eye on your representatives and what they’re supporting and pushing so you can make sure to send in your comments and thoughts.
The best time to weigh in is during committee hearings. House and Senate committees hold hearings during which the public can weigh in. Not all bills are granted hearings, and those that are placed on committee calendars are the only bills with a chance of being passed. You can contact committee members by email or phone, or you can sign up to speak at a hearing or “drop a card” by registering your support or opposition at the Capitol.
The Texas Tribune is a great news source for everything going on at the Lege, and you can sign up for alerts on specific bills you are watching by creating a bill list at the Texas Legislature Online.
We hope you are more prepared to tackle the Legislative Session now that you have the basics down and all the tools you need. Now, get out there and make a difference!