Making the Most of a Special Session

Legislative Sessions

Temperatures are rising in Texas. The official start of summer is just around the corner, and so is the first special session of the 85th Texas Legislature. On July 18, Texas legislators will reconvene at the Texas Capitol to resurrect and readdress 20 priority issues outlined by Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this month.

For those who did not see their supported bills make it to the Governor’s desk during the regular session (and there were many), this is a last-ditch effort to be heard and to get your legislation across the finish line. While special sessions are limited to addressing only the specific issues chosen by the governor, this year’s ambitious list of priorities—from property taxes and school finance reform to union dues and tree regulations —opens a new door of opportunity for many organizations and issues advocates.

There’s just one catch—you only have 30 days. Less than that, actually, when you consider that the first few days of the special session will be spent addressing Gov. Abbott’s top priority issue—critical “sunset” legislation that will allow several key state agencies to maintain operations after September 1. No other legislation can be considered until sunset legislation has been passed.

In short, this is a time game. The pace of a special session moves much more rapidly than that of a regular session and as of today, it’s about to get a lot faster. Today marks the first day that legislators can begin filing bills for consideration next month.

If you’re hoping to build upon your advocacy efforts over the last several months to pass (or kill) legislation during the upcoming special session, here are a few essential communications strategies to keep in mind.

Dance with the One who Brung‘ya

If you haven’t already (and you should have already), go back to your original bill filers and discuss potential strategies for moving your bill through the special session. The sooner you can get re-engaged with key legislators, the better. Find out what obstacles stand in the way of the bill’s passage and how your organization could help, such as through a well-placed editorial or by helping drum up grassroots support in a key district.

Build a Lean, Mean Communications Plan

Time is of the essence, so this probably isn’t the time for glossy production pieces or direct mailers. Quick-and-dirty, high frequency tactics like social media and email campaigns, phone outreach and other grassroots efforts are often critical to success. Trim your communications strategies to those likely to be most achievable and most realistic to execute in just a few weeks, and then hit the ground running.

Summon the Masses

Now’s the time to leverage the full force of that grassroots network you’ve been tirelessly and meticulously building over the last several months (or years). Engage as many stakeholders as you can to tweet, call or write their legislators. Develop or leverage well-crafted hashtags to push your issue forward on social channels. If you have a strong grassroots base around Austin, encourage stakeholders to show up and attend bill hearings at the Capitol. The more, the merrier here.

Stay Positive

If the initial forecast for your bill isn’t looking bright, don’t count yourself out just yet. Many of the bills that will be filed over the next few weeks won’t even fall within the list of 20 priorities, but it’s not uncommon for out-of-bounds topics to be tacked on to other on-topic bills and be passed during a special session. Stay positive and don’t be afraid to explore creative ideas for moving your bill or issue forward.

While it’s highly unlikely that all 20 of Gov. Abbott’s priorities for this special session will be resolved before August 18, some of them are bound to get the green light. The question of which priority issues those will be is up to our state’s leaders—and the organizations that show up and make the most of the upcoming special session.

Just remember – anything is possible. After all, this is the Texas Legislature we’re talking about.

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