The 87th Texas Legislature convened Jan. 12, but like so many things in recent months, the pomp and circumstance of the day was different, and how business will be conducted for the subsequent 140 days will be driven by the COVID-19 pandemic.
While in-person access to the Legislature might be restricted, cable is keeping the public engaged and the lawmaking process transparent.
Through televised proceedings (in the Austin area) and live-streamed internet proceedings, Texas cable operators for a number of years have made it easy for Texans to keep up with the daily floor and committee action of the House of Representatives and the Senate in the Texas Capitol, no matter where they live.
Broadband, already revolutionary in how citizens can watch their government at work or interact with their elected officials, is essential now that the COVID-19 pandemic considerations have made constituents, policymakers and lobbyists even more dependent on broadband to petition their government this session. That also will be true for the public visiting or conducting business at the Texas Capitol, which will be very different than in prior sessions, according to operational rules passed by the Texas House and the Texas Senate during the opening days of the session.
Some new rules could be rolled back later in the session, depending on the status of the pandemic.
First, anyone entering the Capitol must wear a mask, and free rapid-results COVID-19 testing, while not required for entry, is available at the Capitol’s north entrance, the only public entrance this session. A negative test result will entitle that person to a sticker that can be worn to make it easier to move about the building. Regardless, each lawmaker can make their own rules about visitors to their specific office. Offices may require appointments to meet and may require a negative COVID-19 test to enter their offices. Virtual meetings may be offered in lieu of in-person meetings.
In the Texas House, visitors to the gallery or to committee hearings must wear a face mask. Public testimony on bills in a committee hearing will be taken in person, but committee chairs can invite individuals to testify remotely. Committee chairs also have the option to use an online portal for the public to submit written testimony online if they do not wish to travel to the Capitol.
Among the Texas Senate rules, anyone wishing to enter the Senate Chamber, gallery or attend a committee meeting – including legislators – must have tested negative for COVID-19 that day, unless they can show proof of vaccination. The Senate Redistricting Committee will start hearings on the last Monday in January and take regional testimony via video conference. Other Senate committee will set rules when they begin to meet at a later date.
While the public might find it more difficult to enter through the Capitol’s doors, broadband allows them a way inside. Gavel-to-gavel coverage of House and Senate sessions, along committee hearings are streamed live on Texas Senate and Texas House of Representatives websites. Once aired, proceedings are also archived for later viewing. The two websites can also help you find who represents you and learn more about him or her.
In addition, links to broadcasts, legislative bill information, access to the House and Senate Rules and more can be found at the Texas Legislature Online website. Other Capitol related information can be found on the Legislative Reference Library of Texas website.
All four websites contain a wealth of information, including how to contact your members via email, phone or mail, read their press releases or sign up for a newsletter. In addition, broadband allows you to stay up with elected officials via social media. Most have a presence on Facebook or Twitter. You can find a list of legislators on Twitter, and their handles, here. The Texas Tribune also maintains a database of elected officials that includes links to each official’s email, social media and personal website.
If you live in the Austin area, Charter Spectrum televises live proceedings of the Texas Legislature on its Channels 229 (House) and 230 (Senate) for subscribers at silver level and above.
Looking for news and analysis of what happened at the Texas Capitol, and how it could impact you? Cable offers an in-depth look.
Capital Tonight is Spectrum News 1’s statewide live political television show that airs each weeknight at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. in markets across Texas served by Charter Spectrum. Spectrum News 1’s Capitol reporters talk to legislators, analysts and others on the issues of the day. While the show is available on television or mobile devices only to Spectrum subscribers, past episode segments can viewed by anyone on the Capital Tonight website.
Spectrum News 1 had been aired in Charter Spectrum’s Austin and San Antonio regions since 1999. However, in October, Spectrum News 1 expanded to have more than three dozen journalists embedded in the communities of Waco, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Wichita Falls, Harlingen, Corpus Christi, El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley. Not only can subscribers in these areas now view Capital Tonight, they also can access coverage of stories that matter to their community.
Spectrum News 1 also airs In Focus, hosted by Dr. Nicole Cross, in its Texas markets each Sunday at 9:30 a.m., repeating at 6:30 p.m. The 30-minute public affairs program features experts from around Texas discussing a wide range of issues impacting the state. Past shows can be viewed online by non-subscribers.