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Better Neighbors | January 2015: The Legislative Session

Submitted by Sean Hennigan on Thu, 01/01/2015 - 10:35am


In This Month's Newsletter:

Our faith traditions call us to serve our communities...to care for the least of our brothers and sisters...to love our neighbors. But the needs can seem overwhelming and it can be hard to get started. Better Neighbors is a monthly toolkit to help you and your congregation make a difference in your local community. Each month we focus on one area of need, giving you practical steps to take action and learn more. Better Neighbors is a project of Texas Impact, Texas' oldest and largest statewide interfaith network.


The 2015 Legislative Session

On January 13, 2015, the 84th Texas Legislature begins. The decisions that our 150 Representatives and 31 Senators make over the 140 day-session will impact the more than 26 million people living in Texas in very real ways. Which programs will be adequately funded, and which will experience budget cuts? Will we help more Texans access affordable health insurance? Will we take steps to protect borrowers from excessive fees of the payday loan industry?

Our religious traditions have ideas about what just communities for all people should look like, and about our responsibility as people of faith to participate in creating those just communities. Engaging in the state legislative process is one of the ways we can help create a more just community here in Texas.

Texas Impact is a statewide religious grassroots network whose members include individuals, congregations, and governing bodies of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths. We exist to advance state public policies that are consistent with universally held social principles of the Abrahamic traditions.

Our mission includes educating and equipping people of faith to be effective citizen participants in the legislative process. In this month’s Better Neighbors, we highlight tools that can help you stay informed about the legislative process and take action on the issues you care about.

Before each legislative session begins, our board of directors sets our Legislative Agenda for the upcoming session. Learn more about the specifics of our legislative goals here. Our "Learn More" and "Do More" sections offer ways you can be involved.

Join us on the opening day of the 2015 Legislative Session

In Austin: Tuesday morning, January 13, 2015, 9:00 a.m. Join us on the South Steps of the Capitol building for our interfaith Service of Public Witness. The service will feature prayers and teachings from leaders of diverse religious traditions about our shared responsibility to work for the common good.

Around the state: Tuesday evening, January 13, 2015, various times. Come together with others in your community to watch video from that morning’s interfaith Service of Public Witness at a Prayer Meetup, and to offer your own prayers for legislators, the legislative process, and the people of Texas. Contact Scott Atnip for information about hosting a Prayer Meetup.


Deriving from the Latin word advocatia, literally "to call to," advocacy is the practice of actively supporting a cause or position through verbal or written means. It includes such activities as public speaking, conducting and publishing research, conducting polls, media campaigns, literature circulation, or lobbying.

Lobbying is any form of direct communication with members of the legislative or executive branches of government to influence legislative or administrative action. Those lobbying on behalf of individuals or organizations are financially compensated, and some states require these lobbyists to register with the state’s Ethics Commission.


Texas Impact: Representing the Interfaith Community of Texas

Texas Impact exists to advance state public policies that are consistent with universally-held social principles of the Abrahamic traditions.

Texas Impact’s 2015 Legislative Agenda

  1. Ensure Texas families have access to trustworthy banking options and support strategies for moving more working Texans toward a livable wage.
  2. Strengthen access to affordable, healthy food.
  3. Pursue strategies to ensure all men, women, and children in Texas have access to quality, affordable health insurance.
  4. Take an appropriate and balanced approach to immigration issues. 5. Protect every Texas child’s right to a quality education.
  5. Pursue a fair and adequate state revenue system.
  6. Improve law enforcement and criminal justice outcomes.
  7. Strengthen and integrate local and statewide mental health care systems.
  8. Give voters clear and complete information about policy influencers such as campaign contributions and lobbyists.
  9. Encourage Texans to vote and participate as partners in policy development and implementation.
  10. Ensure open communication between agencies and the public in policy implementation.
  11. Deepen investment in Texas’ national model faith and community-based initiative.
  12. Prevent discrimination and protect the rights of every Texan equally.
  13. Ensure clean, affordable water for all Texans.
  14. Promote clean, reliable, affordable energy.
  15. Strengthen local and regional disaster and rapid response networks.

The Texas Legislature

The Texas Legislature meets every other year for 140 days. Each session convenes on the second Tuesday in January during odd-numbered years. The 84th Legislative Session begins on January 13, 2015, and ends on June 1, 2015.


Understanding Texas Government: Policies, Agencies and Resources

capitol graphic

Texas Legislature Online (TLO)

Texas Legislature Online (TLO) is a website owned and managed by the State of Texas that provides a treasure trove of information regarding the actions of both the Texas House and Texas Senate. Here you can research upcoming bills, find a schedule of legislative committee meetings, and look up your national, state, and local elected officials. The feature “MyTLO” allows you to track and research bills with the option of creating an alert system to notify you of an upcoming vote concerning a bill or the status of the bill in the legislature. For more information on TLO visit http://www.legis.state.tx.us/Home.aspx.

Texas Ethics Commission

Created by a voter-approved provisional constitutional amendment, Article III, Section 24a, the Texas Ethics Commission serves numerous duties and exists to ensure the continued integrity of the Texas Legislature. The Commission is able to recommend the salaries for all publicly-elected members of the legislative and executive branches and is tasked with the enforcement and administration of various statutory codes. For more information regarding the duties of the Texas Ethics Commission, visit http://www.ethics.state.tx.us.

Texas State Preservation Board

Established by the 68th Legislature, the Texas State Preservation Board was created to oversee the maintenance, preservation, and restoration of the Texas State Capitol, its grounds, and the Governor’s Mansion. Information regarding the duties of the Board, as well as tour information, may be found at www.tspb.state.tx.us/tspb.htm.


Want to Dig Deeper?

To find analyses of legislation during the session, look for the Daily Floor Report published by the House Research Organization (HRO).

http://www.hro.house.state.tx.us/

To learn how the Texas Legislature develops budget and policy recommendations for legislative appropriations and completes fiscal analyses for proposed legislation, visit the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) online.

http://www.lbb.state.tx.us/

The Texas Sunset Advisory Commission is tasked with assessing the continued need for each state agency.

http://www.sunset.texas.gov/

To view the Texas Constitution and Texas statutes, visit the Texas Constitution and Statutes Online.

http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/

Track the 84th Legislative Session with My Texas Legislature Online (My TLO):

http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/

Who Represents Me? Find your Incumbent online:

http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/Address.aspx

Lege TV is a project of Texas Impact that captures legislative events from the live stream, edits them for time and clarity, and posts videos online for others to view and share.

http://www.legetv.org/

During the 84th Legislative Session, Texas Impact’s Newsletter will keep you up to speed on the latest developments. Sign up online at http://texasimpact.org.


More than one million individuals in Texas qualify for life saving food or health benefits but are not enrolled to receive them. Is your congregation interested in how to better be in community with low-income families in your neighborhood or city?

If so, the Community Partner Program is a great opportunity for you!

Texans can now apply online for public benefit programs like CHIP, TANF, SNAP and Medicaid through the Texas Health and Human Services Commission's (HHSC) new online portal. Recognizing that many low-income families do not have Internet access or might need additional help, the Community Partner Program is a state initiative that allows local congregations to assist low-income Texans in applying for needed benefits.

Through HHSC's Community Partner Recruitment Initiative, Texas Impact is working with HHSC, the Texas Hunger Initiative and the Texas Association of Community Health Centers to recruit communities of faith and other local nonprofit organizations to provide internet access and/or trained volunteers to help low-income families apply for state benefit programs.

Texas Impact has a team of AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers in offices throughout Texas who would love the opportunity to come speak about the program with your faith group or lead a presentation or event for the local community at your organization.

For more information, contact Andrea Earl at andrea@texasimpact.org or Scott Atnip at scott@texasimpact.org.


Better Neighbors provides information on a different public policy issue with local implications every month. In addition to the newsletter, you will also have other opportunities to engage around the monthly focus through webinars, phone calls, and in-person events throughout the state.

In January, we invite you to the following opportunities to learn more about Legislative Engagement:

  • January 13: Legislative Training in Austin, TX | 1-3PM, First United Methodist Church. Learn more about the event here.
  • January 23 at 11:00am: Conference Call to focus on Mental Health and the Community Partner Recruitment Initiative.

           Dial in: (712) 432-3066, Conference Code: 424548.

We encourage you to share this information with people in your network. For more information, contact Congregational Outreach Director Scott Atnip.


Texas Impact logoTexas Impact was established by Texas religious leaders in 1973 to be a voice in the Texas legislative process for the shared religious social concerns of Texas' faith communities. Texas Impact is supported by more than two-dozen Christian, Jewish and Muslim denominational bodies, as well as hundreds of local congregations, ministerial alliances and interfaith networks, and thousands of people of faith throughout Texas. Texas Impact and our sister organization, the Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy, provide theologically-grounded public policy educational resources on our member organization's shared social concerns and opportunities for advocacy for people of faith.



TEXAS IMPACT MEMBER ORGANIZATIONS

Christian Church (Disciples of Christ): Southwest Region, Bluebonnet Area, Central Area, Coastal Plains Area, North Texas Area, Trinity-Brazos Area * Episcopal Church: Diocese of West Texas * Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA): Northern TX-Northern LA Synod, TX-LA Gulf Coast Synod, Southwestern Texas Synod * Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.): Grace Presbytery, Mission Presbytery, New Covenant Presbytery, Palo Duro Presbytery, Tres Rios Presbytery * United Methodist Church: Central Texas Conference, North Texas Conference, Northwest Texas Conference, Southwest Texas Conference, Texas Conference * Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission * United Church of Christ: South Central Conference * Society of Friends : South Central Yearly Meeting * Texas Unitarian Universalist Justice Ministry * American Jewish Committee * American Jewish Congress * Jewish Federation of Dallas * Muslim Freedom and Justice Foundation of Texas * Interfaith Action of Central Texas (iACT) * San Antonio Community of Congregations * Tarrant Area Community of Churches * Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston * United Methodist Women * Church Women United in Texas * National Council of Jewish Women * Dominican Sisters of Houston

TEXAS IMPACT

President-Reverend Dr. Whitney Bodman | Vice President-Richard Ertel | Secretary-Amanda Quraishi

Treasurer-Reverend Jim McClain | Executive Director-Bee Moorhead