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) 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 was proud to have 9 students serving in Austin during the past session. The students have been sharing their experiences by blogging.
I finally have a quick second to write a recap of the Austin Legislative Session. It was quite a whirlwind, and I think I can speak for most of the group when I say that I am still adjusting to things back in Houston. I jumped pretty quickly from Austin to summer legal internships so it nice to have a moment to sit down and reflect about the past semester. I can honestly say that I have never learned as much as I did in five months at the Capitol. There are so many different systems interacting with each other under one roof (social work theory!). Besides learning about the legislative process in general, I also began to understand:
- the political process and the impact that elections have on legislative process
- the innerworkings of a Capitol office: I worked with a very talented and experienced group of people in Rep. Coleman’s office including a GCSW graduate, two experienced staffers, a UH law graduate, and a law student from TSU.
- the role of lobbyists and advocates: From non-profit advocates to government legislative liasions to paid lobbyists, I learned what works and doesn’t work from the perspective of a staffer. On a daily basis, I met with different groups and invididuals who came by our office and wanted/needed something from my boss in the issue areas I was working on.
- How hard our legislators work! We spent some long hours at the Capitol and dozens of important decisions are made by our legislators every minute. And they hardly get paid. I realized how much commitment to service, passion, and perserverance it takes to be an elected official and work for the public good. Luckily I worked for a very experienced advocate who has a great dedication to the people of Texas.
- The legislative process is designed to kill bills. That’s why only about 773 House Bills made it to the governor’s desk out of the almost 4000 that were filed! I’m proud to say that I worked on five bills authored by Rep. Coleman that made it through both chambers and were signed by Gov. Perry. Overall, Rep. Coleman passed 27 bills through the House and Senate, none of which were vetoed by Gov. Perry.
- Last but not least, how social work theory and practice are an integral piece of the legislative process. I met many social workers and community advocates at the Capitol who were working to promote social work ideals such as dignity and respect for every individual, social justice, and integrity. As a staffer, I was also able to use social work theory to understand how all of the different players related to each other in the Capitol to move bills forward. Luckily, I had the help of a great field instructor to help me make those connections.
I’m grateful for the opportunity that I had to do my field placement at the Capitol through the GCSW!