Dear Chairman Burrows,
I was in attendance at the Ways and Means Committee meeting on Wednesday at the Reagan Building. My four colleagues and I left Ft. Worth at 4:30 a.m., arrived at the Capitol at about 8:30 and registered to testify in support of HB 2. We had been told that public testimony would begin at noon, so we spent the morning visiting with legislators about other legislation we support which was also being heard in committee on Wednesday.
We went to the hearing room at about 11:30 a.m. The hearing reconvened a little after 12:00, with invited testimony, followed by testimony from mayors, city council people, county commissioners, and professional organizations. SIX HOURS LATER, still hearing from mayors and commissioners, we finally gave up and left because we have families, jobs, and other obligations that prevented us from staying at the Capitol until midnight.
I would just like to share with you our frustration at the way that hearing was conducted. Speakers were not kept to a time limit, and questioning by the committee members went on and on, often on topics not relevant to the subject of the hearing. It really felt as if some members were trying to run out the clock so that citizens would grow weary and leave (like I did). I’ve attended many other House and Senate hearings where fairly strict time limits were enforced on everyone. Allowing 30 to 40 minutes for a single testimony of mayors, city council people, and county commissioners whose time and travel are paid by taxpayer money while citizens and taxpayers—on their own time and who pay their own expenses—wait for SEVEN HOURS is just not acceptable.
My fellow grassroots activists and I spend a good deal of time during session coming to Austin to participate in the process. It’s never easy, and it isn’t cheap. We leave well before dawn and return home in the very late hours, and we pay our own way. But we do it because we feel it’s important. We are dedicated to bringing our point of view and our message to the committees and to participating in the legislative process. We understand that the hearing process is often lengthy and may go into the night. We accept that, and we are always prepared to deal with it whenever possible. But everyone’s time was wasted yesterday on lengthy, uncontrolled testimony and questioning. Maybe it was not done on purpose, but it certainly felt that way.
I have always had a problem with the practice of taking invited testimony and elected officials’ testimony before the public citizens’ testimony. I find it to be disrespectful to taxpaying citizens who care enough to come to Austin to testify. I know it’s always done that way, but I would love to see a committee chairman change the paradigm and allow citizens to have the same respect and courtesy as the folks who are paid to be there. But at the very least, I expect the hearing to be managed in a timely manner, with limits on the length of testimony so that everyone can be heard in a reasonable time frame. We don’t mind staying late if the time is managed so that everyone has an equal opportunity. But Wednesday’s experience was extremely disappointing and frustrating.
I thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your support of property tax reform and for authoring HB 2, which will bring some much-needed control to local government budgets. I also urge you to ensure that future hearings of the Ways and Means Committee will give the taxpaying citizens of Texas the courtesy and respect they deserve, with reasonable time allotted to everyone.
Vice President, NE Tarrant Tea Party
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