Neighborhood seniors have a voice at the state capitol thanks to Jim Cowgill and Jean McCloud, our representatives on the Texas Silver-Haired Legislature.

Cowgill and McCloud recently were elected to serve on this 116-member, non-partisan legislature, which promotes the concerns of Texans 60 years of age and older in Austin.

“We function just like the regular legislature, but we do not have the power to enact bills,” says 64-year-old Cowgill, a neighborhood resident for more than 40 years.

Instead, the volunteer silver-haired legislators write resolutions and then lobby state representatives and senators for the support needed to have these resolutions turned into bills and eventually passed into laws.

“We have a real good rapport with all the state senators and state legislators,” Cowgill says. “They come to us and ask us if we have anything they can sponsor.”

Cowgill, a retired engineer, has been active in City and neighborhood senior organizations for many years. He is a member of the Dallas’ Senior Affairs Commission and teaches the “55 Alive” defensive driving course at the White Rock Senior Center.

McCloud is a 73-year-old retired Dallas public school teacher. She is a program chair for the Caucus of Responsible Government and an active member of Casa Linda Methodist Church.

McCloud says the Silver-Haired Legislature keeps her thinking, and she is proud of the group’s successes.

One success she mentions is the group’s push for criminal background checks on all nursing home employees, which was extended to include criminal background checks on school employees.

The group also advocates stiffer penalties for fraud against the elderly, the preservation of the Texas Homestead Act and support for in-home health care services, among other things.

The Silver-Haired Legislature meets for two one-week sessions in Austin on even-numbered years, when the Texas Legislature is in recess. The group, which held its first session in 1986, is allowed use of the capitol building and its offices.

When not in session or lobbying government officials, the representatives spend time in their communities gathering input from seniors, Cowgill says.

Dallas County has one at-large representative and four representatives whose districts are based on boundaries drawn for the Dallas County Commissioner Court. Cowgill is serving his second term at-large after defeating Sydney K. Kay in a May election. McCloud is serving her third term representing District 2, which includes Lake Highlands. She ran uncontested for her seat this year.

Registered voters age 60 or older can run for election or cast a ballot. Polling places include senior centers and park and recreation centers. Representatives serve two year terms, and there are no term limits.

The Silver-Haired Legislature is sponsored locally by the Senior Citizens of Greater Dallas and the Dallas Area Agency on Aging. For information, call 823-5700.