So yesterday I went to a commission hearing on a proposed vicious dog bill in the Texas House. The hearing started at 2 PM. I figured I would probably be there for a couple hours.
Wow. So totally wrong.
The bill was not even up for discussion until 10:30 PM. I sat there in the hearing room in a tiny chair, taking only one bathroom break, eating and drinking NOTHING, for a full eight and a half hours listening to testimony on bills that I had absolutely no interest in.
Then I sat in the chair and listened to testimony on this bill for another hour.
During the entire time, the committee members (various state representatives) went in and out of the room freely--to eat, to go to another committee, to talk on the phone--chatted with each other, worked on things at their giant desk, and occasionally asked questions of those testifying.
By the time it got to our bill, which they intentionally delayed because of the sheer quantity of people wanting to testify against it (approx. 21--they were hoping to discourage people, and it worked, because a lot of folks had gone home by the time they got to our bill), only three committee members were still in the room.
Then the committee chair stepped out of the room as our bill came up. The bill sponsor was in the room, and the chair substitute permitted actual debate about the bill between the sponsor and testifiers right there in the committee room (this is not the way it's supposed to work--you are supposed to go in and tell the committee why you want them to pass or turn down the bill, and they listen and ask some questions--the bill sponsor is only there to introduce his/her bill and answer the committee's questions, not to debate). The bill sponsor turned this to his advantage, lambasting anyone who spoke against his bill with misleading and confusing statements about what his bill would actually do. Those average citizens who hadn't read the bill thoroughly and could not think or speak like a lawyer were at a loss to respond. They had come with written statements and were not prepared for a courtroom debate about the law.
Now, the person who went with me to this hearing, and was going to testify against the bill, happens to be a lawyer. And when she saw what was going on, she was chomping at the bit for her turn to speak, because she loves debate and she badly wanted to call the bill sponsor on his unethical and disgraceful tactics. But before she was called up, the committee chairman returned to his position, called a halt to the debate, and asked the bill sponsor to leave the room. The chairman then proceeded to treat the next two speakers (which included my companion) very rudely in an attempt to reassert his control over the proceedings. Which was a shame, because my companion made some excellent points that, it seems, fell on deaf ears simply because the chairman was more interested in hurrying things along than in actually listening.
My overall feeling about the hearing? It was appalling. It made such a mockery of the system. By the time we finally got to our bill, it was so late, and everyone was so tired and hungry, and the committee chairman was so pissy, that I think a large part of our message crumbled under the strain, and what little was left fell on deaf ears. Fortunately, some very powerful speakers made their presentations at the end, so I think a good impression was left on the handful of committee members that remained.
I will have to do this again for HB 925. But at least now I know to bring a book, lots of snacks, and a lot of patience.