The dog days of summer have arrived and, as usual, it is Texas HOT! Normally, at this point during the interim, we would be tracking interim committees, educating legislators on our issues, developing legislation for the next legislative session, helping target our PAC contributions, and ensuring that we have a presence at the capitol. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed how legislative business is being done.
As a result of the pandemic, all interim committee meetings have been cancelled with no resumption date pending. Even access to the capitol itself has been limited to staff only. But that doesn’t mean things have slowed down at all, we have just had to learn to lean heavily on our contacts and advocate by phone, virtual meetings, and email. While things are substantially different from the lead up to previous sessions, everyone from legislators, staff, and the lobby are all in the same boat.
Nevertheless, your lobby team has been busy educating members regarding the Texas Universal Service Fund (TUSF) and rallying support from key legislators. Our supporters have been mobilized and educated as action is needed now and during the upcoming session to save connectivity and economic viability in rural Texas.
Further, while interim committees are on hold, other committees have been meeting, most notably the Governor’s Broadband Development Council. Last session, we were successful in getting a seat on the council for a TTA member. We are ably represented by former TTA Board member Kirk Petty of Santa Rosa Communications. Having a seat at the table on the issue will be critical as the council develops recommendations to the Governor for the upcoming session on the availability and expansion of broadband throughout the state.
The Governor has also created Operation Connectivity Task Force “to provide all Texas students with high-speed Internet connections along with other resources they need to connect and communicate online.” The task force is led by Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath; Senator Larry Taylor, Chair of the Senate Committee on Education; Rep. Dan Huberty, Chair of the House Committee on Public Education; and Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa, Dallas ISD. Working with our new Executive Director, Mark Seale, we have met with the Texas Education Agency and have been asked for our further input. These connections and our involvement keep us engaged in developments affecting our TTA members.
This pandemic has forced us all to change how we do business. We also know the upcoming session will be unlike any other in our history. There appears to still be no consensus at the capitol about just how the session will be managed. There are many questions to be answered: How will members safely meet? Will the public be allowed in the capitol? How will committees meet and how will members get public input? At the moment, all options are in play. One thing you can be certain of is that your Executive Director, Regulatory Team, and Lobby Team will all be fully engaged and working to ensure success this session!