Take Action at #txlege: Week of Feb. 18

Contributed by Felicia Miyakawa, Special Education Advocate

On Tuesday, Feb. 19, The House Public Education Committee will hear meet for the first time to discuss proposed bills hear public testimony about those bills. The hearing will start around 11:30 (or whenever the house adjourns) and it’s going to be LONG: there are 12 bills on the schedule! These bills cover a variety of topics: bonds, trustee elections, teacher training, sex trafficking prevention, class size limits, notification about physical fitness assessments, etc. You can find the livestream here.

As a Special Education advocate parent of two young people who receive Special Education services, I will be watching a few of these bills closely. (If you are also watching these bills and have different takes on the meaning of the bills, I’d love to hear your thoughts!)

1. HB 65 is about mandatory reporting of out-of-school suspensions. This bill would require schools to report certain demographic information about students who are suspended, as well as reasons for which the student was suspended.

Why this matters: Students of color and students with disabilities are suspended and otherwise punished with disciplinary actions at rates that are hugely disproportionate, and for issues that have little or nothing to do with the student code of conduct.

2. HB 116 is about teacher training and preparation. This bill would mandate that all K-12 educators-in-training receive instruction in how to help students of ALL abilities access the curriculum.

Why this matters: a vast majority of students who receive Special Education services do so in the General Education environment for at least part of their day. (It’s very important to understand that Special Education is a service, not a place.) Currently, there is no mandated training for general education teachers to learn the specialized approaches that Special Education teachers are supposed to learn. Yet in many cases, those teachers serve the same students. Federal law requires that we educate kids in Special Education with their non-disabled peers to the greatest extent possible, but when General Education teachers don’t have this training, they are unprepared to include our students.

3. HB 165 is about amending the Education Code to allow students who receive Special Education services to receive endorsements in high school, and provides ways for these endorsements to be determined.

Why this matters: an increasing number of kids in special education are college-bound. (More and more colleges and universities are offering tailored programs for students with disabilities to meet the growing demand.) Currently, however, students who need modifications to their curriculum or who struggle to pass standardized tests like STAAR cannot earn endorsements on their transcripts. Allowing these students to earn endorsements helps them with entrance into college.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

  1. If any of these issues are important to you personally, consider going to the capitol to give testimony. If you can get to the Capitol but don’t want to give testimony, please know that you can still weigh in. There are computer kiosks located close to the hearing rooms where you can register and indicate whether or not you support a bill and whether or not you want to testify. You can hang out and watch the hearing or leave. This is a great option for folks who don’t enjoy public speaking.
  2. If you would like to submit written testimony and can’t get to the capitol, let me know and I can try to connect you with someone who can help you.
  3. For everyone else, please call or email YOUR representative to discuss your stance on these bills. As a reminder, James Talarico is on the Public Education committee. If you live in HD 52, he will really want to hear from you!

Remember: you can watch a live stream of committee hearings. Bookmark these links:
House committee hearings

Senate committee hearings

Take Action at #txlege: Week of Feb. 11

Contributed by Felicia Miyakawa, Special Education Advocate

For those of you trying to keep up with #txlege, here are some action items regarding special education and medically fragile kids/adults.

This week there will be several hearings about funding and appropriations. For those of you who have less familiarity with these issues, please know that we need you to amplify our voices.

1. The Senate Finance Committee will be meeting about education matters in SB 1 on Monday morning at 10. SB 1 is the Senate’s budget bill. You can watch the hearing here once it’s live.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: the current bill does not provide for the $50 million identified as necessary to fix the Special Education plan TEA has already laid out (aka, the Corrective Action Plan), an action that is required because of a Federal Department of Education investigation. Public testimony is allowed at this hearing for a maximum of 3 minutes. Written testimony will be accepted. Please see the hearing notice for details.

2. House Appropriations Article II subcommittee will meet Monday morning at 8 to discuss Health and Human Services. You should be able to watch the hearing here once it’s live.

KEY ISSUES HERE: currently there is a 10+ year waitlist for kids with disabilities who need state resources. We need HHS to fund the “waivers” so we can get these kids off waitlists and get them the support they need. Public testimony will be allowed at this hearing for a maximum of 3 minutes. The hearing notice does not specify anything regarding written testimony.

3. House Appropriations will meet again on Thursday at 8, and one of the topics that day is Early Childhood Intervention. Over the past few sessions we’ve had HUGE cuts to these programs, and many rural providers have stopped providing services. We have huge gaps in service now, to say the least. Public testimony will be heard at this hearing, too. Please see the hearing notice for details. Watch here.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:
1. If any of these issues are important to you personally, consider going to the capitol to give testimony.
2. If you would like to submit written testimony and can’t get to the Capitol, let me know and I can try to connect you with someone who can help you.
3. For everyone else, please call members of the above committees to support these funding needs.

House Appropriations Article II Subcommittee members

Senate Finance Committee members (includes Watson and Campbell from Central Texas districts)

 

Healthcare Issues at the 86th Texas Legislature – VIDEO

On Thursday, January 24, we hosted a briefing with Laura Guerra-Cardus from Children’s Defense Fund-Texas and the Cover Texas Now coalition to hear about a host of healthcare issues at the #txlege. If you want to catch up on these issues, the slides and video of the presentation are available. We’re planning a mid-session catch-up presentation to check in on how our priorities are progressing during session.

Sign up to stay on top of the latest at the Lege with the Indivisible Austin #txlege newsletter

Full Briefing Video

Presentation Slides

 

 

 

Help Lead Indivisible Austin’s GOTV Work

GOTV volunteer announcement

We are ramping up our voter engagement and mobilization push for the 2018 election and we’re looking for a number of volunteers who can help lead this exciting phase of our work! Everyone knows how important the 2018 elections are, with so many key challenges at stake. Indivisible Austin is developing our midterm field program in conjunction with Indivisible national’s statewide plan, and will use their voter outreach tools to organize canvassing, phone banking, texting, and more.

Our first event is on July 29th with special guests Leah Greenberg and Ezra Levin, founders and co-executive directors of Indivisible.

We’re looking for folks who have the following interests, skills and abilities:

  • Commitment to Indivisible values: we defend democracy, resist authoritarianism, hold our elected officials accountable, and fight back against the administration’s horror-show policies especially in the areas of healthcare, immigration, and gun violence prevention
  • Enthusiasm to change the face of power in Texas and in Congress
  • Flexibility, both in terms of time and attitude
  • Past experience leading canvassing, phone banking, and other activities is an awesome bonus!
  • GOTV work is most likely to take place in the evenings and on the weekends. Occasional weekday/daytime availability is helpful but not required.

Interested? Let us know by emailing our Treasurer Tony Weber at tony@indivisibleaustin.com

Write a Letter to the Editor about Family Separation and Detention

Like everyone else, you’re probably wondering WHAT CAN I DO? One thing you can do is to write a letter to the editor (LTE) to your local paper. It may not get published, but if a LOT of people write on the same issue, there’s a good chance some of those letters will get published.

Most papers limit the length of LTEs to 150-250 words. You can usually find the guidelines and a submission portal or email address on the Opinion page of your local paper’s website. If you are feeling REALLY motivated and have a lot to say, consider extending your letter into an op-ed, which has a more generous 600-700 word limit.

This is a sample letter to the editor on family separation at the border. Feel free to use it to help you craft your own. Please note, it includes elements that are common to successful LTEs:

  • Facts to build an argument
  • An emotional hook to pull the reader in
  • A call to action to those in power & our fellow citizens

On May 6, Donald Trump chose to create a humanitarian and moral crisis by implementing a policy to have children of border-crossers taken from their parents. Since then, more than 2,000 children, including infants and children with disabilities, have been stolen away. All this to deter future border crossings and, more importantly, to use as leverage against Democrats.

Americans have risen to the challenge of this crisis, in part because, for now, the media has found the courage to call lies lies and stay focused. We have been horrified at the pictures of children being taken from their parents and put in cages. Our hearts have broken at the sounds of children in custody crying out for their parents, because we know their cries will go unanswered.

Trump bowed slightly to pressure, signing a vague order, mostly to relieve pressure from the media. At best, it will result in families being held in prison together, possibly for years. At worst, Trump will resume stealing children from their parents after the 20-day limit for family detention expires. Regardless, the order does nothing to reunite the families already torn apart. Trump created this crisis. He can and must choose to fix it. We must put even more pressure on to reverse the policy and reunite the children and parents. Remember, that little girl looking up at her mother still doesn’t know what’s happening. The children crying for their parents on the audio recording still haven’t been answered. This isn’t over.

Tony Weber
Indivisible Austin

Other topics you might want to build an LTE around:

A Day on the Hill

(Read about day 1 of my trip to D.C.)

Bright and early last Thursday morning I headed to the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center for the weekly coffee with Sen. John Cornyn, which I RSVP-ed for in advance (and I don’t know if they spend any time researching attendees, but I suspect they do).

Texas flag sign that say says Texas Thursday Coffee Senator John Cornyn
Even Texas signs are bigger

It was gorgeous DC day, and this sort of picture-perfect postcard view of the Capitol is enough to give even the most jaded Texas gal a little hope.

U.S. Capitol dome
Our Capitol is beautiful, majestic, and inspiring.

I joined about 50 other fellow Texans at the coffee, which was held in a large meeting room in the visitors center. I had a few minimum expectations about this event, and I had prepared for any opportunity to speak to or ask questions of the senior senator from Texas. I was ready to talk to him about the family separation policy, gun safety reform, and health care. I was also aware that I was in a room full of people who likely had diverse views on all these issues.

I got my coffee and filled out my photo information form. And then waited for something to happen.

At about 9:50 a staffer (not intern–though they were mostly young white male interns) came in and made a beeline to an older gentleman wearing a Make America Great Again hat. She spent a fair bit of time talking to him and his (I assume) wife.

A few other staffers came in and each spoke with a few folks. In the meantime, they started to line us up to take our photos with the senator. Finally Sen. Cornyn came in and went straight to the flags for photos. We were hustled through very quickly, maybe 15 seconds each, and since no one else was chatting him up I didn’t either. That was a crucial mistake.

More than 50 constituents came to the coffee, and our senator didn’t take any time to speak with us, except for banalities while shaking hands and taking a picture. He whizzed in, took photos for 10 minutes, and then disappeared. There was no welcome from him or from his staff. There was no acknowledgement that most people in the room had traveled from Texas to be there. And there was absolutely no opportunity to engage with our senator about any of the critical policy issues.

I have been to D.C. for enough meetings with members of Congress over the years to have had a certain set of expectations about what happens when 50 constituents are in the room. I learned my lesson and I’m passing it on to you: go to the coffee, get the photo, but also make the appointment and go to the office.

As interns started coming into the room to give people information about their tours, I took my last opportunity to connect with staff. I hand-delivered 300 postcards constituents had signed over the last couple of months, asking Sen. Cornyn to pass basic gun safety reforms that the vast majority of Texans and Americans support. If you wrote a postcard to Sen. Cornyn at the March for Our Lives or the Town Hall for Our Lives, they were delivered, and I hope you get a response. Please share it if you do!

Approximately 300 postcards from Sen. John Cornyn's constituents, asking for strong gun safety measures to protect our children.
Approximately 300 postcards from Sen. John Cornyn’s constituents, asking for strong gun safety measures to protect our children.

My next meeting on the hill couldn’t have been more different. I had reached out to Rep. Lloyd Doggett’s D.C. office the week before my trip and asked if I could stop by and meet some of the staffers so I could put names to faces. I expected to spend about 15-30 minutes at the office at most, but was treated to the opportunity to spend some time with each member of the congressman’s policy team. All my preparation paid off!

In the time I spent with the congressman’s staff, we discussed family separation and what’s happening here in Austin, as well as upcoming Congressional trips to the border; gun violence prevention actions and the hearing on red flag laws and safe gun storage at the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence committee on June 25; work being done to address out-of-control drug prices; the immigration bills that will hit the House floor this week (they are both bad, so call your reps!); the new poll on support for Medicaid expansion in Texas. We probably touched on a few other things I’ve forgotten.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett and Lisa Goodgame
Thank you for taking a few minutes to chat!

As I was about to leave, Rep. Doggett appeared, and he generously gave me a few minutes. We talked about several of the items on the list above, but most specifically about the actions Democratic members of Congress are taking to address family separation. Something is happening out there, and people are deeply moved by the horror we’re seeing play out at the border. I’m thankful for the members who are putting this issue front and center, and I hope it will drive some change in Congress. But when we see Texas members of Congress hailing the policy as a positive development while also lying that it’s happening because of a law passed by Democrats it’s hard to imagine any sort of solution. Also, do they not hear themselves contradicting themselves in that lie?

With just about an hour left in my schedule, I quickly headed to the offices of Rep. Flores, Rep. Smith, and Rep. McCaul to drop off more postcards asking for stronger gun safety measures, as well as some letters from voters. I have a plan to visit Sen. Cruz’s office next time I’m in D.C.

I caught a member of Rep. McCaul’s staff in the middle of lunch, but I made him listen to me for several minutes as I shared my concerns on the policy of family separation, the criminalization of asylum-seekers, and the need to change this inhumane response to people fleeing violence. He listened, was reasonably friendly, and promised to put my concerns in the database. I’ll let you know if I get a response.

Here’s my key takeaway from this trip: really bad shit is happening in our government every single day and the executive branch agencies are being gutted and destroyed by political appointees. We can campaign our butts off trying to get new people elected in November, but right now most of our representatives are co-signing everything the president wants. Our representatives have traded away a lot of their decency for tax cuts. Each day that we don’t call or take action and engage the people who represent us right now, we are tacitly telling them that we’re OK with what they’re doing and how they are representing us.

We. Are. Not. Don’t let them forget it.

Indivisible Goes to Washington

Last week I had the opportunity to go to Washington with about 40 other Indivisible leaders from across the country. It was a wonderful chance to meet some of the folks I’ve gotten to know virtually over the last year-and-a-half, while also connecting with some of the Indivisible national staff.

Indivisible leaders from California to Maine and points in between gathered in D.C.
Indivisible leaders from California to Maine and points in between gathered in D.C. Photo by Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth/Indivisible Illinois

We had a nice meetup followed by dinner, as we prepared to attend the We the People Summit the next day along with about 1,000 people from the labor movement, as well as allies such as Planned Parenthood, Sierra Club, United We Dream, and many more. We also ran into some of our Austin friends from Workers Defense Project!

Progressive activists joined Communications Workers of America at the We The People 2018 Summit.
Progressive activists joined Communications Workers of America at the We The People 2018 Summit. Photo by Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth/Indivisible Illinois

The summit was actually a forum with a number of Democratic members of Congress (some of whom are likely 2020 candidates). Here’s a video recap from MSN, along with other analysts discussing the 2020 field. We heard from:

Sen. Cory Booker
Sen. Elizabeth Warren
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand
Sen. Kamala Harris
Sen. Bernie Sanders
Rep. Pramila Jayapal
Rep. Luis Gutierrez

Each member gave a brief speech, and then took 2-4 questions, depending on available time. Vox has a pretty good recap of each speaker. The topics they covered were broad, but had common themes: an economy that isn’t working for many Americans, worsened by the massive tax scam; immigration policies and zero-tolerance crackdowns that are tearing families apart; racial bias in the criminal justice system and mass incarceration; uncontrolled drug prices; corruption as the basic mode of operation of the White House.

Senator Kamala Harris of California addresses the crowd at the We the People Summit.
Senator Kamala Harris of California addresses the crowd at the We the People Summit. Photo by Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth/Indivisible Illinois

Indivisible member Ricky Silver from New York asked Sen. Gillibrand whether she’d support a tax on every Wall Street transaction. The senator has been challenged on her cozy relationship with Wall Street, and apparently she was not expected to answer the question directly. To everyone’s happy surprise, she not only directly answered the question, but for the first time said on the record that she’d support the transactions tax as a means of reigning in income inequality.

After the forum concluded, we went a short distance to D.C.’s Freedom Plaza where Rep. Jayapal and Rep. John Lewis, among others, and about 200 activists gathered for a rally and march to the D.C. office of Customs and Border Protection. Several members of Congress as well as about a dozen activists then started a sit-on on the steps of the office and prepared to be arrested. Unfortunately I had to leave early, but reports from the field told me no one was arrested. (Facebook video from Workers Defense Project)

L: Members of Congress lead the Families Belong Together rally and march to Customs and Border Patrol; M: Marchers headed to Customs and Border Patrol office in D.C.; R: Families belong together rally outside Customs and Border Patrol office in D.C.
L: Members of Congress lead the Families Belong Together rally and march to Customs and Border Patrol; M: Marchers headed to Customs and Border Patrol office in D.C.; R: Families belong together rally outside Customs and Border Patrol office in D.C. Photo credit Lisa Goodgame/Indivisible Austin

I met up with a friend for dinner. We knew each other when I worked as a foreign service officer, and this person continues to work for the State Department. My friend flagged a story in Foreign Policy about the deconstruction of the administrative state happening within the State Department, illustrated by a newish appointee who has been compiling an “enemies list” and working to destroy the U.S. relationship with international organizations like the United Nations and WHO, among others. As bad as you think it might be, it’s worse. The brain drain and diplomatic talent leaving the State Department (voluntarily or being forced out) is something we won’t recover from for a long time.

The food was good, the company enjoyable, but I left with a troubled feeling of unease.

Where Has All Our Common Sense Gone? Remarks at the NRA Convention

I gave these remarks at the Texas Gun Sense press conference outside the NRA convention on May 4. Today, once again, children were slaughtered at school because our lawmakers refuse to take any meaningful action to protect them. With each mass shooting, families and communities are devastated, and the community of survivors grows ever larger. After a murderer cut our children down today in their classrooms, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick declared a war on doors, as though they were the real culprits in today’s deaths. There is evidence to support reasonable gun reform, and it doesn’t include trapping our children inside their schools in violation of fire codes, common sense, and common decency. We need serious people in office who will pursue policies that protect our children and communities, not guns.

My name is Lisa Goodgame, and I’m the President of Indivisible Austin. We are a chapter of the national grassroots movement focused on defending democracy and holding our member of Congress accountable. We believe that gun violence prevention is one of the biggest issues we’ll face in the coming year and in the next legislative session. I speak to you today not only as an activist and advocate, but as a gun violence survivor.

In the middle of the night of October 2, 1993, my 18-year-old sister Rani Goodgame was murdered in Houston. Two young guys shot her and another young woman at a party and she died at the scene. She had just started college at the University of Houston and she planned to pursue a degree in sports psychology. But instead of graduating and having a long life ahead of her, she was cut down in a hail of bullets.

I stand here as a member of the ever-growing community of gun violence survivors. Twenty-four years to the day of my sister’s murder we woke up to news of the massacre in Las Vegas. That day the survivor community grew by thousands. Twenty-four years to the day of the shooting at Parkland my family got the notification of the latest victim impact hearing as one of her murderers comes up for parole. That day the survivor community grew by thousands.

I’m here today to represent survivors who can’t be here to speak, but I’m also here to issue a challenge to our lawmakers.

Today our senators Cornyn and Cruz will the address the NRA convention. They are both A+ rated by the NRA, but they are failing our children, communities and schools because they are beholden to the gun lobby’s special interest and letting our children die.

Our children are a special interest.

Our communities are a special interest.

Our schools are a special interest.

In his pro-NRA op-ed in the Dallas Morning News, Sen. Cruz called those of us who are calling for commonsense gun reform “dunces” and “extremists.” No one speaking here today is either of those things. We aren’t dunces. We’re seeking policy change that the vast majority of Americans and Texans support. A Quinnipiac poll released on April 19 found that 94 percent of voters support universal background checks. 55 percent overall support stricter gun laws, and 53 percent want an assault weapon ban.

The majority of Texans are not dunces and they are not extremists. We are ready for political and policy change, and we’re ready to end the NRA’s stranglehold on our lawmakers.

NEW Pocket Guide with 2018 Election Info!

You know those neat little pocket guides we hand out at marches, rallies, and meetups? Now you can print your own!

The pocket guide has been updated for election season! Block walking your neighborhood? Take some with you to hand out to neighbors. The pocket guide now has:

  • contact info for all 6 U.S. Reps and Sens. Cornyn & Cruz
  • NEW state lege and Austin City Council contact info
  • NEW comprehensive voter information for 2018

Download the PDF and print double-sided in black & white

Call Congress to Protect SNAP on May 8

What: Call-In Day to Protect the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

When: Tuesday, May 8

​Who: Call your member of Congress at 888-398-8702

Please share this action alert widely and use the downloadable social media graphics from Children’s Defense Fund-Texas below 

Adapted from CPPP‘s SNAP action alert:
About 3.8 million Texans — kids, the elderly, people with disabilities, veterans and workers who don’t earn enough to feed their families — turn to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly “food stamps”) to help buy food every month. It is the nation’s most effective anti-hunger program.

Now, SNAP is at risk because of proposals in the Farm Bill, the legislation that includes this vital program. The Farm Bill would make it harder for millions of working mothers to put food on the table by taking away or cutting their food benefits. In all, the proposal would cut the actual money families receive to buy food by more than $17 billion and instead would spend billions setting up a new system of untested work programs and requirements with punishing penalties.

RSVP on Facebook to join the National Call-in Day and let Congress know you oppose cuts to the SNAP program

Call your member of Congress on May 8 at 888-398-8702

Sample script/talking points:

  1. Identify yourself as a constituent calling about pending legislation.
  2. Tell them you want your representative to oppose the current Farm Bill, because it would:
    1. Cut food assistance for struggling families in your community, and
    2. Misuse those same funds to expand a bureaucracy that sells the promise of work, but won’t deliver results.
  3. Give a concrete example from your experience to demonstrate why you care.
  4. Provide your full mailing address and ask to receive a response from your member of Congress.
  5. Thank the staff member!

 

Right click to download and share these images on social media:

Protect SNAP national call-in day

Protect SNAP national call-in day

Protect SNAP national call-in day

Protect SNAP national call-in day