Lobbying The Texas State Legislature

Texas State Capitol Dome Photo by John Selig

Texas State Capitol Dome
Photo by John Selig

Last Spring Rodolfo and I sold our condo in an expensive high-rise near downtown Dallas and opted to purchase a condo in garden apartment style community not far from our high-rise. As soon as we moved into our new place we felt right at home and immediately enjoyed meeting our neighbors.

Joining Our Homeowner Association (HOA) Board

Our complex is almost as old as I am <ancient I know>, which means it is loaded with charm <just like me – right?> that one just doesn’t find in new construction. With age, however, comes maintenance. The homeowner association here is active. As a way of getting to know others in our complex I volunteered to do my part in becoming a building rep. I agreed to forward information from our HOA board and our management company to owners living in in our building.

This past fall the HOA Board President asked if I would be willing to serve on the board. I agreed to do so and I was one of two new board members elected at our Annual HOA Meeting held in January. I just started my three-year term.

About a month ago our property manager from our management company let us know that they would be taking a busload of people from Dallas to Austin to lobby Texas State Legislators on potential legislation that might impact homeowner associations and she wanted to know if any of us on the board would be willing to join them and go to Austin for the day.

Photo by John Selig

Side view of the dome – Photo by John Selig

The Texas State Legislature meets for five months starting in January every other year (odd numbered years). The Governor of Texas can call the Legislature back for special sessions, which happens occasionally but in general legislation in Texas takes place in just five months every other year. Needless to say it is a bit of a madhouse pushing thousands of bills through in such a short period of time.

What HOAs Do

Homeowners associations (or HOAs for short) are important in many home subdivisions, townhome communities and condominiums. Owners pay monthly dues. Those dues enable a variety of services to be performed. Services vary but often include, pool maintenance, water, exterior maintenance including painting, building exterior maintenance and roof repairs, as well as landscaping, snow removal and garbage collection. Some HOAs cover other services such as cable, valet parking, concierge service, etc.

Owners elect HOA boards that typically work with a management company that takes care of providing the services. HOA boards set the policies and direct the management companies. Major changes in rules and by-laws require approval by a percentage of owners set in their HOA’s by-laws.

HOAs boards sometimes get a bad rap if they do not work well representing the owners but most do a good job, work hard and assess what is doable based upon the budgets the HOAs have available. Living within a community that has an HOA isn’t for everybody. HOAs have by-laws and rules. If you don’t like living in such a community you are better off living where you are responsible for all work and thus do not have to live in accord with your neighbors. Unfortunately, some people do break the HOA rules (typical infractions may involve pets, excess noise or ignoring remodeling standards). Enforcing rules falls under the purview of HOA boards and management companies. Those who do not want to live by rules tend not to be happy when they are called to task for breaking rules and assessed fines.

Lobbying Texas State Legislators on Behalf of HOAs

Last week the busload from our management company joined with others from around the state to lobby Texas State Representatives and Senators to remind our elected officials of the importance of HOAs to many Texans. Legislation is being introduced this session that won’t be controversial but is designed to clear up some ambiguity that exists in current laws. We also wanted to make certain that if any anti-HOA legislation happened to be introduced that it would be defeated.

Photo by John Selig

Close-up of the very top of the dome – Photo by John Selig

I agreed to participate in the lobby day and I am glad I did so. I have never lobbied before and it was a gratifying experience. Besides getting to know staff members from our management company I had an impact on the “sausage making process” (as the legislative process is often referred to as) and I have to admit that being able to share my experience and opinions felt good.

I am convinced that our country is doomed unless we get corporate money out of politics. Lobbyist money influencing and controlling elections and legislative decisions benefits only special interests. I am strongly in favor of a passing a constitutional amendment removing such money from national, state and local government. However, lobbyists representing diverse positions on issues are crucial to informing elected officials of the varying facets to proposed or needed legislation. Lobbyist supplied information along with comments from citizens enables elected officials and their staff to educate themselves and then make their decisions based upon weighing the merits of the variety of information they have been presented. It is when money from lobbyists gets involved that government stops being “of the people, by the people and for the people.”

Our group visited three state representatives all of whom were Republicans. Appointments had been set up for us in advance with a legislative aide for each of the three State Representatives we visited. As a liberal gay man who is not thrilled with the Republican Party Platform in the State of Texas and the policies supported by the Republican majorities in both houses of the Texas State Legislature, I had to bite my tongue and stay on the topic at hand. As much as I wanted to do so, calling the three legislators to task on their positions on LGBT rights, as well as a long list of other social and economic issues, was not the reason I was in their offices.

There were about ten of us in our group, which was headed up by an attorney whose practice serves HOAs. He discussed the purpose of our visit and then had each of us introduced ourselves.

Most everybody in our group (and most of the other groups) worked for an HOA management company or a provider of services to HOAs. Some of the people lived within an HOA community. I was the only member of our group currently serving on an HOA board so I took some time to share the importance of HOAs providing services that would be much more difficult for individual owners to obtain for themselves. I mentioned that HOA boards were made up of volunteers who took their responsibility seriously. I stressed the importance of legislation impacting HOAs being positive because it impacted many Texans who relied on their HOAs.

While waiting for our first appointment in the Capitol we congregated in a vast lobby under the magnificent dome of the massive Texas State Capitol, which was completed in 1888. The current Texas State Capitol is the third building to be the state capitol. According to Wikipedia the Texas State Capitol is 308 feet tall making it the sixth tallest state capitol in the United States. In fact, it is taller than the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. I was spellbound by the splendor of the dome.

Photo by John Selig

Close-up side view of the dome – Photo by John Selig

Those of you who know me, or who have explored my website, are aware that photography has been an important part of my life for many years. I had a great time taking photographs of the inside of the dome with my iPhone 6 Plus and I have included several of them with this post. I certainly wished that I had brought my Nikon DSLR camera with me because then I could have really gone to town taking photos.

Our three meetings lasted approximately fifteen minutes each. We were well received and listened to by all three legislative aides. After the three meetings I felt that we had been heard and I was proud to have been part of the legislative process. I encourage others, given the opportunity, to meet with your elected officials or their staff to share information and positions on topics of importance to you. Although government seems to be focused on the needs of the major corporations and industries and the 1% who own them, citizens should take the opportunity to influence elected officials thus having them still report to the electorate who give them the privilege to serve us.

This entry was posted in Politics and Government and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.