The Legislature of the State of Texas meets every other year for their regular session in Austin, TX from January to May. This powerful arm of Texas government has a strong impact on the activities of state government and policy that impacts all Texans. The UH Graduate College of Social Work (GCSW) has partnered with Representative Garnet Coleman, Texas House Member for District 147, to offer GCSW students a unique opportunity to learn first hand how policy is created and to serve the state of Texas. Students go through a selection process in order to participate in the Austin Legislative Internship Placement. They are then assigned to staff members in House or Senate Member’s offices or as Policy Analysts for the Legislative Study Group. The GCSW is proud to currently have 9 students serving in Austin.
The students are sharing their experiences by blogging. Stay tuned as the session heats up!
Today marks six weeks since the 2011 Texas Legislative session started. Currently, I am completing my social work field placement in the office of Representative Garnet Coleman through the Austin Legislative Field Placement at the GCSW. It’s been an exciting and dynamic six weeks so far! The Texas Legislature meets once every two years. This session the legislature must deal with a $27 million budget shortfall as it makes decisions about the budget for the next two years. Three weeks ago, House Bill 1 was filed, which presented the proposed budget for the state of Texas in the next biennium. Faced with the shortfall, sweeping cuts in funding have been proposed that would have devastating consequences to public and higher education, the mentally ill, and the elderly.
As a policy analyst in Representative Coleman’s office, I will be working on particular issue areas, although they will not be assigned until we find out what committees Rep. Coleman will serve on. I’ll use the social work skills that I have learned at the GCSW to review each bill for its effect on Texas families. Luckily, I am working alongside UH MSW/JD graduate Juliana Kerker who participated in the Legislative field placement in 2009. 8 of my colleagues from the GCSW are also working in the Legislative Study Group, and Jaime Rivera is working across the hall in Representative Lon Burnham’s office. It’s always nice to see familiar faces amidst the hustle and bustle of the Capitol!
Through the eyes of the individual…
Currently I am in Austin working at the 82nd Legislative Session. This experience thus far has been completely different from previous internships and/or practicum. This past weekend I went on a district tour with Representative Garnet Coleman. This was an experience that was very thought provoking to say the least. During the tour, he showed me several different communities within his district, which encompasses the UH campus, Houston and Pasadena ISD, Houston wards 3 and 4, as well as parts of downtown. Not only did he show me the different areas, but he explained the significance of why preservation of each area was important. These days, many of us believe in the idea that we must make our communities better. Few would probably disagree with that statement. However, when discussing what will be good for productivity and business may not be good for the common person.
Going through the third ward and fourth ward areas of Houston, which is right outside of the University of Houston campus, you could see that there are major improvements that need to be done to the communities. Businesses may need to be brought in to lessen the amount of abandoned buildings and homes may need a little re-touching in order to keep the neighborhoods looking nice, but what may not always be apparent is the history behind the homes and people living there who may have been living there for generations.
As a future social worker, activist, or policy maker, it is important to look deeper than what the eye can see. It is important to make sure that while you are improving a community or the lives of individuals within that community you should also remember to preserve the history. No one is where they are without a history. When working to improve lives, remember to preserve culture and history