Like Al Michaels, but for politics: How The Texas Tribune explained the wonky process of lawmaking to everyday citizens

People like to say Texas politics is a contact sport. So, like Sunday Night Football, shouldn’t it have commentators to tell you what the heck is going on?

The Texas Tribune has provided livestreaming of the Texas Legislature on its website since 2013. But in 2017, the Tribune provided more than 100 hours of livestreaming from the Texas Capitol and beyond on Facebook Live. This included committee meetings, press conferences and floor debates in the Texas House and Senate.

During many of these events, I anchored our livestream as The Texas Tribune’s social media manager. Much like a sports commentator explains what is happening, I occupied a corner of viewers’ screens to walk them through the complicated and sometimes mundane business of lawmaking in real time. When viewers had questions about the process or the policy at hand, I’d respond on the stream and in our comments, working to make these proceedings more accessible — and interesting — to Texans. Some of these videos reached tens of thousands of viewers, a much wider audience than we’ve seen for previous livestream legislative coverage. The Tribune also embedded live tweets from Capitol reporters, adding another layer of context for our viewers. When major legislative deadlines loomed, we even added countdown clocks on a few occasions. But the biggest boon to our readers were the questions we answered. Over the course of the session, we answered hundreds of questions like:

  • When is the deadline for this bill to pass?
  • Who is speaking?
  • What does this amendment do?
  • What is the next step for this bill?
  • When does this bill become law?
  • Does this bill have a chance to pass?

We developed a reputation for responsiveness that earned us praise from our audience and peers alike. Sometimes, our livestreams ran until midnight as lawmakers worked up against deadlines. We captured emotional debates and testimony on the “bathroom bill,” which received national coverage. And when the last day of the 85th Texas Legislative session ended in a scuffle between lawmakers, we were there to keep readers informed. Select videos from our Facebook live coverage follow.

A dramatic deadline

May 11 was the last day for lawmakers in the Texas House to pass bills on second reading. Any bill that didn’t meet this milestone was dead. It is one of the most important nights of the Texas Legislature, and hundreds of readers tuned in to see the late night drama.

An emotional debate

On May 3, the Texas Senate passed a bill allowing local law enforcement officers to question the immigration status of people they detain and seeks to punish local officials who don’t cooperate with federal immigration authorities. Tensions and emotions around the bill were high during the session, and the law is likely to be tied up in lawsuits for a while.

The “bathroom bill” strikes again

Perhaps no other bill garnered more attention — or sparked more of a public outcry — than the so-called “bathroom bill,” which would have restricted public restroom use for transgender Texans. The legislation failed to pass the Texas House during the regular session, and it ultimately died in a special session. Thousands watched Texas senators debated the bill for hours in July.