Steven Polunsky

Photo Credit: Eric Park | Daily Texan Staff

The LBJ School of Public Affairs hosted a wrap-up panel discussion Wednesday about the Texas Legislature’s 83rd regular session and three special sessions.

Sherri Greenberg, director of the school’s Center for Politics and Governance and former state representative, moderated the panel, featuring state Reps. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, and Gene Wu, D-Houston, along with three other panelists.

Steven Polunsky, former director of the Texas Senate Committee on Business and Commerce, started the panel discussion with humor.

“The 83rd legislative session was the Lone Ranger of sessions,” Polunsky said. “It was way too long, too boring and forgettable — except for that Tonto part.”

Polunsky said there was a contest for the silliest bills of the session.

“The nominations: ‘on relating to the protection of stray bison’ or designating Feb. 16 as Texas Homemade Pie Day,” he said. “That one passed.”

Panelists also discussed more serious issues addressed during the legislative session, such as abortion, public education financing and the budget. Villarreal said the House achieved bipartisan success through collaboration on key legislation, including financing for water projects.

“We could write legislation, file it, debate it, push it through and get it passed. All within five months,” Villarreal said. “It’s amazing, especially compared to the time things take in D.C.”

Wu, a first-year representative, said he was surprised by how the session went. 

“We stopped pushing off huge items like the water bill that’s been pushed back for 20 years,” he said. “We focused on things both parties could agree on and pushed back ‘red meat’ topics.”

Villarreal said he regrets that certain topics were delayed and not fully addressed.

“Did [Republicans] purposefully spend the regular session on bills that needed cooperation so that they could then drive the ‘red meat’ bills right through a special session?” Villarreal asked.

Erica Grieder, senior editor at Texas Monthly, said too many big topics fell by the wayside.

“The entire first special session was embarrassing and bad for everyone involved,” Grieder said. “They wanted to pass certain bills before the primaries came up in 2014.”

Wu, an LBJ graduate, also spoke about the importance of the school as well as LBJ students who intern or work as Capitol staff during legislative sessions.

“We [the representatives] can’t know everything about all the topics,” he said. “Staff are critical to making decisions.” 

Greenberg said she hopes more students — both undergraduate and graduate — become part of the legislative process.

“Everyone can get involved,” she said.

Lisa Craven, chief of staff to state senator Glenn Hegar, speaks to Texas legislative interns about office “dos and don’ts.” 

Photo Credit: Mikhaela Locklear | Daily Texan Staff

For 140 days every other year, many juggle the demands of being a student in class and an intern at the State Capitol.

For the students interning at the 83rd Texas Legislature, the Texas Politics Project and Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life held a seminar Saturday to train students and prepare them for their work.

James Henson, instructor for the Department of Government’s internship course, said he put the seminar together in hopes of giving the interns a “practical and ethical leg up” in the Capitol.

“There is a lot of information to process and it is moving very quickly,” Henson said. “From our experience I see you being dropped in at the beginning of the session and you go in and you don’t know a lot of things.”

Henson said most interns who go into the Capitol are young. The seminar was set up to help the interns understand the process of the legislature by giving them a set of contexts on what it is like to be an intern, and Henson picked out a few different speakers to present at the seminar.

One of the speakers, Steven Polunsky, director of the Texas Senate Committee on Business and Commerce, spoke about professional behavior expected from interns and staffers at the Capitol.

Most of his presentation was about how technology is used to make the government more transparent and interactive. Polunsky said he believes the students who are interning at the Capitol are people who want to learn and work.  

“You want an intern who is going to work harder than they have before,” Polunsky said.

This is the first time the University has had this seminar opportunity available for students. Henson said he thought about holding the seminar for a couple of years, but this was the first year he had the time necessary to do so.  

Henson said he hopes to expand the seminar for the next legislative year.

Nicole Kruijs, public health and Plan II junior and intern for state Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, said she felt she walked out with new information that she can apply to her internship.  

“I enjoyed hearing about the interns who moved up and became full-time staff,” Kruij said. 

She also said that she enjoyed all the speakers who came in to talk, especially those who dealt with handling the press and lobbyists.  

“I’m usually the one they interact with and do not see things from their point of view,” Kruijs said. “It was very interesting to hear them talk.”

The seminar was open to any student intern in the Capitol. More than 100 people registered for the seminar and not all were UT students. 

“I want students to walk out of here with a richer understanding as to what happens inside the Capitol,” Henson said.