Before I even started my legislative internship, the 87th legislative session was foreseen as a challenge, due to balancing the fulfillment of the democratic process while adhering to COVID-19 precautions. I spent the early weeks of my internship preparing by meeting with a myriad of groups remotely, reading prior analyses of bills, as well as watching archived committee meetings. Along the way, the process of getting started has been prolonged and extended until the highly anticipated start of the first TX House of Representatives committee meeting of the legislative session, an Appropriations committee meeting that was to be held on February 16th.
Well, the hits just keep coming. As a result of the inclement winter weather from a highly unusual winter storm impacting Texas this past week, millions of Texans were left without access to electricity and water earlier in the week. Even now, there are still Texans that do not have access to water. Additionally, this crisis resulted in lives lost.
The Texas Legislature had to limit meeting due to this winter storm on top of the precautions already in place for COVID-19. The Legislative Study Group (LSG), the caucus I am assigned to for my internship, also was impacted due to my colleagues and I losing access to power and water. I was fortunate to be able to shelter in my home while many had to turn to their cars or had no shelter at all until warming centers were operational. Texas was unified in a traumatic event that will impact how we move forward, as it should.
The events that transpired during this past week could have been mitigated and should have been. While maintaining the understanding that Texas typically has a warmer climate and therefore typically puts fewer resources into winterization than other states, the warning signs were there. As early as February 5th, signs of a significant winter storm were on the radars. Additionally, Texas’ current infrastructure is not prepared for cold weather. Among other elements, the culmination of glaring gaps left the residents of Texas to face the consequences.
Now, how do we respond to the situation?
Well, the immediate response is to provide aid to those that are still without vital resources. Recently, Beto O’Rourke provided aid for senior Texans connecting them with needed resources to ensure their safety and security. Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) was able to raise 4 million dollars to be donated for the purposes of providing food, water, etc. for Texans in need.
After addressing these immediate needs, however, we need to discuss the long-term changes that need to be considered by the legislature. In addition to the five ‘emergency’ items he had already identified for the 87th legislature to address, Governor Greg Abbott called for power system winterization and emergency funding to be a new emergency, priority item for the legislature. House Speaker Dade Phelan announced that there will be joint committee meetings to review the factors that led to the crisis situation.
This situation is all I can think about. I think about the families that had to keep their children warm and safe. I think about the long lines of people that were trying to get food before the ice storm hit and the long lines doing so again in the days since the storm. I think of my neighbors that came to me when I was without power for two days to offer me a hot bowl of soup. As I write this post, I am still trying to process the events that afflicted our state. It is a shock to my system.
However, I do not want to close this post on a gloomy note. Instead, I want to extend my heart out to those that are still without power and water, now over a week since the storm first hit our state. In terms of immediate needs, here is a list of food resources for those that live around UT Austin. I want to urge people that can, whether in Texas or beyond, to reach out to others in need and help. If you are reading this and not in Texas, then donate if possible or reach out to people you know that live here. Trust me, nothing felt better than getting a text or a call from my friends to allow me to forget even if only for an hour.
Lastly, I want to highlight the importance of applying public pressure to our legislators to instill lasting, long-term change. My internship as well as my engagement in political activism has demonstrated to me that being vocal is an essential element to creating meaningful change. If you are a resident of Texas, then leave a public comment and let our public officials know your experience. Together, we will make it, and work towards ensuring something like this will not happen again.
By: Devan Daniel, intern in the Texas Legislative Study Group
Originally posted from University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work’s Austin Legislative Internship Program. The College selects graduate MSW students to intern at the Texas Legislature during its legislative session every two years. This post was syndicated with permission from its authors.
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