A Texas #Lege Retro – The Good, The Bad and The Future

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“The time is always right to do what is right”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

During the Texas 87th session, we saw a lot of controversial bills passed, some good, equitable bills passed too, and then there were plenty of bills that didn’t get their fair shot and a few that died that needed to die. We wanted to do a quick recap of The Good, the Bad, and The Future as the Legislature is not yet finished in 2021.

The Good

The Governor has currently signed 231 bills and 3,155 bills passed both houses that become law with or without a signature unless he chooses to veto them. Stay tuned. 

So let’s talk about some good bills for equity and all Texans. 

House Bill 133:

This bill received a lot of bipartisan support and publicity for good reason. This bill was drafted to assist mothers who lack comprehensive health coverage after a recent birth. The bill will “provide the continuation of Medicaid coverage for six months following the date the woman delivers or experiences an involuntary miscarriage.” 

The original bill presented in the House allowed coverage up to 12 months and then was stalled in the Senate because they didn’t want to provide the coverage for that amount of time. This bill, among many others, caused Speaker Phelan to recess the House for a few days until the Senate moved on some of the House priorities. Even if we didn’t like all of the House priorities, we’re happy the Speaker included this critical bill. 

What to watch out for?  Over the next 18 months, paying attention to maternal health rates. This bill was drafted to address concerns over data provided in the 2020 Texas Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee and Department of State Health Services Joint Biennial Report. This report indicated that nearly 40 percent of maternal death cases in Texas reviewed in 2013 were pregnancy-related, and most of those deaths could have been prevented. We hope the passage of this bill provides improvement for our mothers and potentially provides that data that supports extending the coverage to 12 months.

House Bill 686: 

This bill, also named “Second Look,” is for juveniles who were convicted of serious crimes and face very long sentences in prison before being eligible for parole. 

Here is some context from the bill analysis

  • “Such long timelines do not take into account the potential for change that adolescents still have… This bill creates an opportunity for a second look at rehabilitating these inmates by reducing the length of time before certain youth offenders are eligible for parole. The bill does not guarantee the release of these inmates; it would simply allow an earlier opportunity for the inmates to demonstrate their rehabilitation and fitness for parole and direct the parole board to consider that the crime was committed when the inmate was a juvenile. 

The fight for bill was hard fought, and many justice organizations around the State, such as Lone Star Justice Alliance, have been trying to improve outcomes for Texans who may have made mistakes very early in their life – it is good for Texans to give those deserving, a second chance. 

Senate Bill 45: 

For some reason, Texas law regarding sexual harassment laws did not include workplaces with less than 15 employees! Thankfully, one of the non-controversial bills, SB 45, addressed this and easily passed through the House and the Senate and onto the Governor’s desk. S.B. 45 establishes clearly “that sexual harassment by any employer, regardless of how many persons they employ, is unlawful. Now on to…

The Bad

I was going to write about permit-less carry. Regardless of where you stand on gun rights, the focus and passing of permit-less carry was the biggest distraction to focusing on essential issues to shore up some coffers and fuel the election base for extreme conservatives. Survey data supported that even pro-gun Texans were unsure if they favored permit-less carry, and I have more to say, but Governor Abbott assertion that there could be a potential penalty to the House Democrats who walked out on the SB 7 vote takes the cake for the bad. (For the backstory, read here.)

Legislators from either party should protest wherever they feel their constituent’s interests are not being served. Since the beginning of our two-party system, the legislative process has been critical and sparked fights over small and big matters. But when did we become such poor losers in politics? We are constantly looking through our subjective partisan lens. When will we stop being performative and less concerned about elections than governing? Including laying more blame on Speaker Phelan than necessary. This was a long and divisive session where people sometimes forgot to govern by worrying about their future election and pocketbooks.

The Future

Redistricting, Redistricting

So our prediction about the delays has come true due to Census and Covid. The most significant update is that we have a date. The Census data will be sent to States on August 16, 2021 in order for the maps to be finalized. If you didn’t check it out before, here is an informative website on redistricting in Texas details the process and its current status. In addition, the links to this year’s Senate meetings can be found on the website here. The last meeting occurred on May 1, 2021. 

If you want to engage further with Redistricting, check out FairMapTexas. Their mission is a nonpartisan reform effort to fix the broken redistricting system in Texas.

Special Session is Coming 

There isn’t much to say here until Governor Abbott calls it, but we know it is coming. But in the meantime, get your basic questions answered about a special session in Texas: here.

The Time is Now to do the Right Thing

I want to close with the controversial SB 7 that did not pass without some heroics. Depending on who you ask about SB 7, you’re either talking about election integrity or voter suppression.  But what is curious to me is that the Texas Republicans, probably feeling the pressure from conservatives nationally, to enact legislation about a problem that is definitely not a Texas problem. This bill has the potential to divide our State further and, quite frankly, has the potential to do more damage to the party that almost has a monopoly on power already.  

The Republican Party with its stronghold in Texas Politics in almost every area except for the large metropolitan cities heavily led by Democrats. Still, the state-held positions are eroding, albeit slowly. Many pundits have noted that House Democrats couldn’t have walked out ten years ago and ended a quorum because there wasn’t enough of them. So from that perspective, Texas Democrats have gained some “power” in the House, but not to the point of significant damage considering the passage of conservative priorities in this session. So why engage in an unnecessary partisan fight?

The added interest in our next election will increase which is a good thing. A more engaged citizenry makes us better, but the aftermath of this bill in the special session has the potential to do more harm than good. Only time will tell.

For me, I’d rather instead have our two parties fight about something that is worth it. 

Until Next Time,