The Texas Capitol and Covid Protocols
Technology has provided us access to legislative hearings and debate on the Texas House and Senate Floors before this year, but as with all facets of life under Covid, streaming legislative business has been useful and appreciated.
When technology first allowed us to sit through House and Senate Committee hearings in the comfort of our offices, high fives were heard around the state. However, monitoring hearings and Floor business is only part of the importance of visiting the Capitol in person.
Observing committee hearings by lobbyists, advocates, or others interested in certain public policy issues is necessary. It can be crucial to know if a Member of the Legislature supports or opposes an issue in real-time. Doing so provides us opportunities to learn more about how Members feel about specific policies and how supporters and opposition view individual legislation.
However, what is highly diminished this year in the Covid-world is interaction with other lobbyists, advocates, colleagues, and peers. Watching a hearing live-streaming on a computer away from the Capitol is handy. Still, it misses the colleague collaboration in the Capitol halls, the sharing of tidbits of information on a particular bill, and the bonding of old colleagues shaking hands.
For this 87th Texas Legislative Session, a Covid rapid testing site is located outside the Capitol’s North entrance. A wristband demonstrating one’s negative test result is required to attend any Senate proceeding. Additionally, while some offices observe no Covid restrictions at all, others are requiring the wristband. Gone are the days of popping in various legislative offices to say hello to staff or the Member. Whether they be old friends, old colleagues, or the legislator who represents you, those opportunities are frowned upon or forbidden by many. While the House does not require a wristband to attend hearings or visit the gallery, the Capitol is just different these days. There are fewer people and less energy.
Previous relationships with legislators and their staff are more important than ever. Most meetings with Members and their staff are via Zooms and phone calls these days. While that is convenient in many ways, face-to-face conversations are central to relationship building and telling a company or organization’s story. However, Zooms and phone calls are working well for now. And, we’ll participate in any way needed to represent our clients well.
With the number of vaccinated Americans rising and hospitalizations down, I hope that the 88th Legislative Session in 2023 will return to normal. It will be nice to see friends in the halls of the Capitol again. Until then, we look forward to doing business with legislators via phone, Zoom, or in-person when it allows. Staying involved during Session is just as critical now as in previous years.