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!
At first glance, the legislative field placement at the Texas Capitol is a strictly macro placement. I was drawn to this placement because of the extremely macro approach. My role as a policy analyst in Representative Coleman’s office is to look at the broader implications that state wide policies have on all different types of individuals, families, and organizations across the state. The systems we deal with on a day to day basis are huge: state agencies, advocacy organizations, private corporations, not to mention the Legislature itself- two bodies filled with members with competing constituent interests from the diverse population of this great state. What has struck me about this placement, however, is the role of clinical social work skills in policy making.
Each day, I work on moving my assigned bills one more baby step forward in the process towards becoming a law. There are about 10 billion bills and many different ways and places that a bill can “die” before it becomes law. In almost every single one of those places is an individual working in a different environment with competing interests and requirements. For example, a filed bill must be heard in a subject matter committee and then must be voted out by the members of that committee before it even gets a chance to be voted on the House floor. Each committee is comprised of seven to thirteen members- each of whom represent different political parties, come from rural and urban communities, and were elected on different platforms (we’re learning a lot about politics in addition to policy). Not to mention the fact that each member brings their own personal perspective on policy issues based on their background, culture, family and friends.
Using social work skills like starting where the client is can be very helpful in the legislative process. By understanding the perspective that each member brings to a committee, one can try and help bridge the gap (if a gap exists) between their policy agenda and the bill that you want them to pass out of committee. It can be very fascinating! (Okay and a little bit frustrating at times).There are countless more examples to share, and not enough room to write about them all here. While the hours have been demanding, I am definitely learning much more about the practice of social work (both clinical and macro practice) than I ever could have imagined. I will keep you posted as (hopefully) some of the bills that I am working on eventually make it to becoming law by May 31st!