WENTWORTH: Open government at its best
AUSTIN - It's never been easier to keep an eye on the Texas Legislature, especially if you watch Senate or House sessions live on your computer.
The 83rd Legislature will convene in Austin on Tuesday, January 8. With Texas Legislature Online (TLO) at www.legis.state.tx.us/ as your portal, you may have a front row seat with the click of a mouse.
You may learn about the legislative process by clicking on "How a Bill Becomes Law" and determine who represents you in the Texas Legislature at "Who Represents Me?"
Current laws and the Texas Constitution also are a click away.
On the home page, you will find a "How Do I" section that provides instructions on how to find a list of filed bills, how to follow the status of a bill, and how to contact your legislators. You also may find dates and times for committee hearings, view the exact wording of bills and much more.
Through this Web site, you may see what bills have been filed and track those of interest through the legislative process. You may search for bills by subjects such as education, taxes, gambling, water or whatever interests you.
Once the Legislature convenes, many committee hearings also are telecast live. Committee hearing schedules are listed online and are archived so you may view them at a later date.
You may even want to testify on a bill that is important to you. For instance, five residents of Senate District 25 testified last month in a hearing of the Senate Natural Resources Committee relating to investor-owned water utilities. During the time between legislative sessions, some committees hear invited testimony only, but once the Legislature convenes, you're welcome to come and put in your two cents worth.
If you have children at home, don't miss the Kids' House and Senate Kids links for the young ones.
Under "My TLO," you may track legislation with bill lists, receive bill and meeting alerts and search for bills from previous legislative sessions.
The Legislative Reference Library link on the lower left of the home page opens a door to Texas' present and past. Click on "Legislation," and you'll find a timeline for Texas water laws, redistricting information, state budgets dating back to 1927, and a history of all amendments to the Texas Constitution.
Senate and House Journals, where daily proceedings of legislative activity are recorded, go back to 1846.
Click on "Interim Reports," and you will find historic and current committee reports. Between legislative sessions, the Lieutenant Governor and the Speaker of the House assign charges to committees, directing them to conduct in-depth studies of important issues. The committees then develop legislative proposals for the next session of the Legislature. The reports from 2012 are now arriving in the library.
You will find Capitol Complex information, upcoming events and visitor information at the bottom right corner of the site.
Whether you want to track legislation or conduct serious research, TLO is the one-stop connection to your Texas Legislature, and I invite you to use it.
Just remember, you are our boss, and we in the Legislature are your servants.
This column was written by State Sen. Jeff Wentworth.
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