‘These lawmakers hold your fate in their hands’: UT students get involved in current legislative session


Assad Malik

Echo Nattinger

Ali Juell, Senior News Reporter

The state Capitol building represents something different to every Texan. In the midst of the legislature’s active season, its Texas pink granite exterior represents an opportunity for students to make their voices heard.

Between working in legislators’ offices and preparing to testify in front of committees, UT students are getting involved in each stage of the legislative process for the 2023 state session.

As a legislative intern for State Sen. José Menéndez, government senior James Hallamek said he finds it rewarding to play a part in making impactful state policy by reaching out to stakeholders about their legislative priorities and looking at previously filed bill drafts to inform Menéndez’s current legislative approach.

“One of the benefits of being at UT is that we can go to the Capitol and then go to class and it’s only a 10-minute bus ride,” said Hallamek, president of University Democrats. “Take advantage of it.”

As the session goes on, Hallamek said he looks forward to the high-energy environment that will fill the Capitol. 

Echo Nattinger, president of the University’s Senate of College Councils, said she looks forward to testifying alongside other students at the Capitol as part of the Invest in Texas program, a collaboration between the University’s three Student Government agencies. Through the program, students can advocate for the UT community’s legislative priorities directly at the Capitol. This year, students at Invest in Texas determined reproductive rights, professor tenure and voting access as issues they would like to focus on.

Even though campus life can feel separate from state politics, Nattinger said anything from riding the bus to college classes are impacted by state government. She said students should get involved in Invest in Texas projects and stay educated on the issues being discussed in the legislature.

“It can feel very intimidating (to participate), especially when these lawmakers hold your fate in their hands,” said Nattinger, a Plan II and government senior. “That’s why it’s even more important to get out and make your voice heard.”

Amanda Garcia, Senate’s policy director and Invest in Texas coordinator, said the program allows students to be a part of committees focused on bill tracking, campus outreach, testimony and other important areas of civic engagement. 

Thinking back to previous committee hearings, she said the energy and passion she’s seen in her peers while addressing legislators has inspired her own involvement. 

“The collective power of students is just so important,” said Garcia, a sociology and English junior. “When students and other advocates come in droves, … it’s just one person after the other, testifying and giving their own personal experience. I think it is a very powerful thing to see.”

Garcia said Invest in Texas is not the only way students can advocate for their political priorities and suggests reaching out to other bipartisan groups on campus such as Texas Rising and Texas Votes.