Editor’s Note: This is the first in a three-part series examining what student organizations are doing to lobby the 82nd Texas Legislature.
The Legislature Working Group, a committee of student leaders, laid out a plan to keep UT affordable, academically competitive and gun-free at its first meeting of the semester Sunday.
Members discussed how the new session will affect higher education and launched “Invest In Texas,” a breakdown of the group’s lobbying strategy.
Student Government Executive Director Jimmy Talarico said “Invest in Texas” is a compilation of students’ needs and legislative priorities. He said the group’s strategy is to make students aware and get them active.
“We wanted to come up with a plan that effectively represents our issues, effectively represents students and gets students involved to learn the process,” he said. “I think this proposal straddles that line of both effectiveness and efficiency.”
The Legislative Budget Board, a joint committee that recommends appropriations for state agencies, circulated a potential state budget in which the number of TEXAS Grant recipients would be cut in half and community colleges may be forced to close.
Talarico said the budget proposal shows that legislators see higher education as a place with a lot of leeway to make cuts.
“Our challenge, as we move forward, is trying to reverse that perception and make it clear that higher education is not an expenditure, but an investment,” he said.
The group will offer lobby training sessions, at which two experienced lobbyists will teach students how to push their legislation forward. The group will also draft letters students can send to hometown representatives and will host an official “Invest in Texas” Lobby Day to inform and mobilize students.
Civil Engineering senior Loren Campos, president of the University Leadership Initiative, pushed to add protection for funding for undocumented students.
“I think the message is very clear,” Campos said. “The name ‘Invest in Texas’ encompasses a lot of the issues that we are addressing, but in terms of content, I would add support for protecting tuition for undocumented students.”
The Senate of College Councils will lobby for the first time as a part of the “Invest in Texas” platform, said government and social work senior Chelsea Adler.
“We technically have never taken a lead role in these kinds of initiatives, but this year, I think Student Government and Senate both realize this is probably the most important legislative session for higher education in Texas,” she said. “We are pooling all our resources together to be as effective as possible.”
Although academics are their main focal point, Adler said the Senate of College Councils fully supports the new legislative proposal.
“Something like affordable funding is going to be more relevant to us than handguns, but we’re still prepared to help out wherever we need to,” she said.
“Invest In Texas” will run on a timeline beginning Jan. 24 and run through the end of the session.