As the 86th legislative session reaches its final month, UT students work to influence lawmakers while the University stands neutral.
So, when one of our readers asked us, “What does UT’s lobbying effort look like? How does it compare to other major state public universities?” we looked into it as a part of Curious Capitol, a series where we answer reader-submitted questions.
In Texas, it is illegal for state agencies — which includes public universities — to lobby at the state level. University spokesperson J.B. Bird said the University will help lawmakers in drafting bills rather than endorsing legislation or candidates.
“We will answer questions from lawmakers as they are trying to write laws that are suited to their vision of what will help the people of Texas,” Bird said. “They might ask question about the implementation of laws, so we will tell them how a law might look on a college campus which helps inform their decision making.”
Bird said this was the case when the Legislature passed concealed carry on university campuses in 2016.
“There were many people at the University who objected (to) the law, but the President was very consistent and came out on the record that we are here to enforce the law,” Bird said.
The right to lobby is determined by separate state laws, but UT is permitted to lobby at the federal level and has a position for federal relations. Other states, however, do not have laws prohibiting state lobbying. The University of Oklahoma has a government relations position that directly influences legislation which would affect its campus.
UT Student Government members took the lead on encouraging student lobbying this session through SG’s Hook the Vote committee. Committee member Cameron Hah said the committee’s focus this semester was to encourage student interest in legislation.
“We want to make lobbying seem less scary to the student population, because it seems like a really daunting task,” said finance sophomore Hah. “It is actually really easy to register for or against a bill or even testify at a committee hearing.”
Alizeh Hussain, a legislative intern for state Rep. Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth, said students should get involved because current Texas legislation is relevant to students.
“A lot of people underestimate how the local government impacts them,” said plan II sophomore Hussain. “This legislative session, I have seen so many bills that are pertinent to college students and college campuses.”
While Hook the Vote does not lobby on behalf of UT students currently, Selina Eshraghi, director of the committee, said she hopes there will be student lobbyists in the future.