Democracy means we all have a voice in the legislative process, and being involved in the legislative session includes knowing what is on the table, when it’s being acted on, and who to contact. The legislature’s website is a bit clunky, but it has quite a lot of useful tools to help you with all three of those pieces.

What is the Lege doing?

During the session, there’s always a lot of media attention and analysis, but in addition to that coverage, you can go directly to the legislature to see all proposed bills and read the actual text.

To see potential laws that the legislature is considering, go to Legislation, then Reports. You can run a report in a lot of ways: all the bills that have been filed, bills by subject, just bills from a particular date or by a particular legislator, and so on. Make sure that you’re searching in the 87th session (2021).

Read a proposed law by clicking on a bill’s “Text” tab and then choosing pdf, html, or Word doc to view it.

When will action happen?

The 2021 legislative session runs from January 12 through May 31 (and possibly further, if the governor calls a special session after that). The legislative process starts with a lawmaker filing a bill, which then goes to a committee (a small group of lawmakers tasked with a particular topic, such as health, education, or transportation) for discussion; if the committee decides that the bill is worth continuing, it is then brought to the full chamber (either the House or the Senate, whichever it was first filed in) for a vote. If the bill passes that vote, it goes to the other chamber for another vote. Finally, the governor either passes it into law or vetoes it. (There’s more back-and-forth discussion than that, plus the potential for amendments to the original text, but that’s the general flow.)

So there are a lot of small movements for each proposed bill before it can become law, and these movements can happen either slowly or quickly, often without much notice. In order to be proactive rather than reactive, and to contact your representatives at a relevant point in the bill’s process, you need to know when something is happening to your bills of interest.

Useful #txlege tip: By making a “My TLO” account (it’ll just need your email address and a password), you can get email notifications when action is taken on bills that you want to follow.

To make an alert, go to My TLO (you’ll need to sign in or make an account) and then Alerts. Add bills by number. “Category” lets you choose when you get an alert: when bill goes to committee, passes in the House or Senate, and so on. Selecting “Any category” means that you’ll get an alert for every action on the bill.

If you want to keep an eye on bills without getting automatic alerts, use Bill Lists under My TLO. It’ll save bills that you add, and you can choose to run a report at any time to see the status of each bill.

You can also access legislative calendars to view upcoming agendas.

Who do I talk to?

There are several people in the legislature who you can contact to express your opinion on potential policy. As a Texan, you have one state senator and one state representative; look up your legislators here. These two people directly represent you in the legislature — you (hopefully) voted in their election and you are their constituent, their boss in a sense (along with everyone else in their district). Contact them about any bill that you support or oppose.

Once a bill that you’re interested in has been sent to committee, you can also contact those committee members, who will decide whether the bill moves forward to a full vote. Hundreds upon hundreds of bills are filed each session, but lots of them don’t make it out of committee; these folks are the gatekeepers, and your feedback helps them make their decision.

Find committee information here, and contact those people in support of or opposition to a bill before it moves further along.

There is a mobile version of the legislature’s website — www.txlegis.com — which has some limitations but also makes a couple of things easier.

The “Committees” tab is helpful for pulling up the phone numbers of committee members when you want to express your opinion on a bill. It takes a few taps to get to an office number, but it’s simpler than on the desktop site. The livestreams are also a useful tool.

Meeting with Your Legislators and Testifying In-Person

During non-pandemic times, the public can visit legislators in the capitol in Austin, and testify (provide a public comment) in person during legislative actions. As of right now (January 11, 2021), it’s not clear how the Legislature is going to operate with coronavirus precautions. Will there be in-person, public meetings? Will we be able to provide testimony via videoconference? Some combination of those methods?

We’ll just have to wait and see. In normal times, however, you need to register in order to provide public comment. For the House, you to sign up at a kiosk or via a mobile device connected to the capitol wifi; for the Senate, you need to fill out a paper card, usually located in the hearing room. It can feel intimidating, but it is absolutely your right as a Texan to testify, and it matters.

This was written and originally posted by Isabel Ray on Medium