There are almost 7000 bills in the current 87th Texas legislative session that are being considered within a 6 month time frame. The capitol is working around the clock passing laws daily, and if we aren’t there to tell them to pause and think about it, they won’t.
Visiting the capitol and lobbying is an important experience to understand the size and scope of what Libertarians are up against when it comes to making a difference. Texas Libertarians had a volunteer citizen lobbying day in March 2021 to try and convince the representatives to vote against certain liberty infringing bills like HB1812.
Joe Burnes attended the event, and it was his first time to lobby. Joe is a long time LPTexas activist, SLEC member, and also works with the Development Department, and he came away from that day fired up to make a difference. Joe said, “Nothing is more clear about how small our party is than when you go to the Texas State Capitol. I felt like a sheep in a room full of wolves. But they are still people, and they can be persuaded, and I found that lobbying on behalf of LPTexas does make a difference.”
This article breaks down the fundamentals of citizen lobbying in Texas to help anyone walk in prepared.
What is Citizen Lobbying?
Lobbyists that use money to influence are not the same as citizens who lobby. Citizen lobbying is an investment of time and persuasive discussions to influence an elected official’s position on an issue, and it can be very effective for a number of reasons:
- It’s necessary. Without lobbyists, the government has a hard time sorting out differences of opinions when it comes to handling their citizens’ needs. We can make problems real to policymakers. They care about the problems. Our passion and perspectives need to be heard.
- We can change laws. History is full of stories of people and groups that fought great odds to make changes. They all took time and lobbying by people who felt something needed to be changed.
- It’s an American tradition. The act of telling our policymakers how to write and change our laws is at the very heart of our democratic system.
- We need good laws to erase the bad ones. Services provided directly to people in need are essential. But sometimes new laws are needed to enable non-profits and activists to be more effective by asking elected officials for support to generate innovative solutions.
- It’s easier when you team up. Lobbying is more effective when many committed people work together to divy up tasks that best suit each person’s skills and knowledge. One person does not have to do everything or know everything.
- Lobbying helps people. As stated, it’s a time investment, but everything that goes into a lobbying campaign — the research, the strategy planning, the phone calls and visits — will help fulfill your goal to help Texans that aren’t there to speak for themselves.
- Lobbying advances the Libertarian movement. Building public trust is essential, and lobbying helps increase LPTexas visibility. It is an important opportunity to build relationships with local, state, and federal government.
How To Lobby The Texas State Capitol As A Citizen
Convinced? Okay let’s get into the good stuff: what to expect and how to be effective.
It’s important to understand the legislative process to understand how an idea gets created into a bill and how a bill gets passed into law so you are able to plot a strategy to increase the chances of a bill's passage or defeat. That process is explained in detail here, and Joe summarized the points for House Bills (HB) below:
- House bills are introduced in the House by a sponsor and sometimes co-sponsors or authors.
- Most bills get assigned to one of the dozens of committees, and citizens can lobby the committee members to influence their views on the bills.
- The author of a bill files an official request for hearing to the chairman of the committee.
- The chairman will either ignore or grant the public testimony hearing. It’s important to note that the chairman’s decision can be very partisan and often skew towards Republicans.
- Members of the committee will attend the hearing of the bill it is assigned to, and citizens can give public testimony.
- The representatives do not typically vote on the bill during the hearing. It will go to pending to allow the committee members to research and hear from citizen lobbyists.
- There may be amendments suggested before it goes back to the committee for vote. It typically will not go back to public hearing unless there are enough changes (at the chairman's discretion).
- After the House Bill (HB) passes the House vote, it will be sent to the Senate and read for the first time, and voted
- Once it passes the Senate, the Governor has 10 days to either sign the bill, veto it, or allow it to become law without a signature. If the governor vetoes the bill and the legislature is still in session, the bill is returned to the house in which it originated with an explanation of the governor's objections. A two-thirds majority in each house is required to override the veto.
In summary: The time period before, during, and after the hearing (before it goes to vote) are the best times to approach House committee members about the bill you want to influence.
You can approach them in two ways: public testimony and lobbying in person. For both methods, you need to do your homework. A really important and helpful website is Texas Legislature Online: https://capitol.texas.gov/ This website will enable you to research all the bills you want to talk about, who is leading and who is voting, and how they have voted on previous positions. You can also create an account to get notifications on the activities happening for the bills you’re interested in.
Public Testimony Hearing
Public testimony hearing is speaking before the committee that is going to vote on the bill. Each person has a limited period of time to speak, and the video is recorded on the TLO website.
Joe explained how to best utilize that limited amount of time: “Public testimony is an opportunity to sway representatives to think in terms of liberty, rather than just the bill itself. This is an effective approach to bills that have good intentions, so you’re not attacking the position so much as the philosophy behind it.”
If you want to speak in the hearing, you will sign up at a kiosk in the capitol or you can do it using their website as long as you’re on site using the capitol wifi. When you sign up, you will verify your identity, which bill you want to speak about, and your position: “for”, “against”, or “on”. If you are speaking “on a bill”, you are just providing information without bias.
The committee will have a number of bills they are reviewing, and your spot to speak may come much later in the day. Joe was there from 10:30 am and couldn't speak until 8:30 pm! He spoke again at 1:30 am. When he left at 4:00 am, committees were still going strong.
Tips for a public testimony hearing:
- Look for liberty-infringing bills that have fewer advocates and speak on those - you’ll have more air time and be more effective for the committee.
- Coordinate your statements with others who are testifying on the same bill so your statements will be brief and not redundant.
- Be prepared to answer questions from committee members, especially if your position is in opposition to the bill.
- They do not tell you what order the bills are coming in, so you’ll need to be in the room during the time given in the kiosk. If you have enough people, one person can scout and alert people when it's their turn. Then everyone else can go lobby.
Lobbying In Person
While you’re waiting for your public testimony, spend the rest of your time lobbying representatives by going door to door of every committee member that is voting on your bill.
Joe and the rest of the LPTexas team were there primarily to speak about House Bill 1812, sponsored by Valoree Swanson. This bill is the biggest issue for LPTexas because it prevents ballot access.
Valoree is a junior representative. Joe asked one of her aids for an analysis of HB1812, but they not only didn’t have one, they didn’t know what an analysis was. They did say they would put one together and send it to him. At the end of the conversation, Joe had them laughing and admitting the bill was garbage. That is the power of lobbying.
Joe got to speak to the chairman of the elections committee (where HB1812 will be heard) as well as multiple chiefs of staff for other committee members. Every principled representative he spoke with was vehemently against HB1812 after speaking to him. They found it immoral to require convention party candidates to pay filing fees since those fees are supposed to cover the state’s cost to put on primaries that convention party candidates don’t even participate in.
“This was just one day of lobbying. Had we been more involved in the process by lobbying and visiting representatives and committee members, 2504 might not have ever passed,” said Joe.
Tips for lobbying in person:
- Get A Map. You’ll be spending most of your time in the underground offices where the House of Representatives and many committee rooms are located. This underground portion of the capitol is 2 floors down and a couple of city blocks long.
- Bring a one-page print out of the bill that clearly defines the issues and WHAT WE WANT. Depending on the bill, it might be advisable to have two versions worded for republicans and democrats.
- Before you go into a representative's office, do research so you can customize your talking points to the person. Phrase the arguments to coincide with their train of thought. This is the art of persuasion.
- Be kind and funny. You’ll have a lot more influence if you’re jovial.
LPTexas Needs You!
Going one or two days to lobby the Texas State Capitol during a 6 month legislative session with almost 7K bills is not enough. We need to do more.
We need a TRAINED VOLUNTEER ARMY OF CITIZEN LOBBYISTS.
We need a full time person that is hired to stay the entire legislative session every day, fighting for our positions on every bill that has a high probability of passing and could affect our liberties.
We need professionally designed and printed one pagers for our lobbyists.
We need guides on each representative: their staff, their bills, their committees, their contact information, their appointment restrictions, how they like to communicate.
We need regular training and meetings.
We need funding to cover some of these costs. Donate here.
Join us at the next Lobbying Day!
The next lobbying day is Thursday, April 15, 2021. You can RSVP here.
Joe Burnes will be hosting a citizen lobbying training via zoom, tentatively scheduled for 7PM on April 14th to prep you for that lobbying day. He will provide even more behind the scenes tips to explain the minutiae and get you ready.
Lastly, check out Joe speaking in the public testimony hearing. He made LPTexas proud that day, and so can you!
Written by Kasie Dailey of KD Marketing Consulting on behalf of LPTexas and Joe Burnes. For inquiries: KasieDailey.com