UPDATES ON (SOME) KEY STATE LEGISLATION
S.B. 990 (Banning Countywide Polling Places)
UPDATE: This bill is currently being reviewed at the Senate committee level and will receive a hearing this week.
This bill would force the 91 counties in the Countywide Polling Place program to go back to assigning specific polling locations for voters.
What does that actually mean? Let's take Dallas County for example. Currently, Dallas County voters can go to any polling location that's convenient for them. But this bill would take away that option, causing confusion and disenfranchising voters. It would force voters to go to one specific polling place, rather than the one that is most convenient for them — say, the one that's next to their office or their gym.
Many voters would end up at the wrong polling place and be forced to vote provisionally, meaning their vote may not even count.
And to make matters worse, there's no plan for voters to even become aware of this change.
Texas Republicans want to make it harder to vote — because they think that if fewer people vote, they’re more likely to maintain control of power. That’s wrong — and we as Texas Democrats will continue to fight for every eligible voter to be able to have their voice heard — no matter what their political beliefs are.
H.B. 20 (“Show Me Your Papers” Border Militia Bill)
UPDATE: This bill is currently being reviewed at the House committee level
In case you missed it — which you very well may have, considering it was announced on a Friday evening during one of Austin’s highest-profile international events — Texas Republicans unveiled H.B. 20, a Speaker-prioritized bill to create a new “Show Me Your Papers” state police force across the majority-Latino region of South Texas to harass and attempt to detain any individual they suspect of being undocumented.
Texas Republicans’ new H.B. 20 would create a state border police force, named the “Border Protection Unit (BPU),” empowered to charge any undocumented migrant crossing onto private land with a third-degree felony for trespassing.
BPU agents would be able to roam South Texas to harass and attempt to detain any individual they suspect of being undocumented while also costing the state likely millions of dollars in jail costs.
H.B. 20, if passed, would in effect be Texas’s own version of Arizona’s unconstitutional S.B. 1070, which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down in its near entirety in 2012.
According to University of Georgia Professor Cesar Escalante, who researched the impacts of S.B. 1070, “[Arizona] S.B. 1070 had significant mental health repercussions on Hispanic adolescents, including Hispanic adolescents who are legal residents.”
Arizona Public Media also reported in 2020 that, “...in the wake of S.B. 1070, Latino adolescents in Arizona were more than five percentage points more likely to consider suicide than their white peers or Latinos in other states. They were also more likely to feel sad and avoid physical activity.”
BPU officers would have incredibly broad jurisdiction, being able to carry out their “Show Me Your Papers” actions in any county in Texas. The legislation also affords BPU officers a high level of immunity from criminal and civil liability.
In addition, this legislation as currently written leaves ambiguous who would be empowered to carry out business for this new “Show Me Your Papers” police force, oftentimes referencing “law-abiding citizens.”
H.B. 20 would allow for BPU officers to return undocumented migrants to Mexico if they witnessed the migrants crossing outside of a port-of-entry. (This is clearly unconstitutional as it violates Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which gives the federal government jurisdiction over immigration enforcement).
The bill also allows the BPU to “use force to repel, arrest, and detain known transnational cartel operatives in the border region” but does not describe how the BPU would know who is a “known transnational cartel operative,” again creating an avenue for “Show Me Your Papers”-style enforcement.
Finally, this bill would charge a third-degree felony for trespassing into Texas private property from another jurisdiction — which would make it nearly impossible for undocumented migrants attempting to seek asylum through a mistaken avenue to ever achieve legal immigration status.
On Friday, Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said: “Born to Mexican parents, I have been an American citizen my entire life, born minutes from the U.S.-Mexico border. Under this law, one of this bill’s newly-created police agents could pull me over and demand proof of my citizenship — simply for my ‘crime’ of looking Hispanic.”
H.B. 20 is an egregious assault on our basic civil liberties and our core values as a nation of immigrants. As we have seen in past iterations of this racist, fear-mongering concept, ‘Show Me Your Papers’ laws only stand to inflict constant anxiety and mental trauma upon all people who even look like they could be undocumented immigrants — whatever that means.
This heinous bill, if passed, would do nothing to curb the crisis at our border – it would merely subject South Texans to constant state-mandated racial profiling and a level of big-brother police-state dystopia they could have never even imagined.
Once Republicans are ready to put aside political theatrics, we as Democrats are prepared to work hand-in-hand with our Republican colleagues at the local, state, and federal level to redesign our immigration system into one that is fair, orderly, and humane — and give much-needed relief to South Texas border communities.
This bigoted, authoritarian monstrosity of a bill — filed by a politician who lives 500 miles from the border — is not the answer.
We as Texas Democrats will organize and fight against this bill with all of our collective strength.
Texas Democrats support President Biden’s comprehensive immigration package, which he sent to Congress immediately upon entering office, and which Republicans refuse to negotiate on in good faith.
Additionally, we support the new federal efforts at the southern border that have already resulted in a dramatic 37% decrease in border crossings.
Texas Democrats urge all Texans to contact their legislators and demand opposition to the unconstitutional, anti-immigrant H.B. 20.
S.B. 147 (Anti-AAPI Legislation)
UPDATE: This bill is currently being reviewed at the Senate committee level.
NBC News has reported that month-long rallying from Texas Democrats across the state against anti-AAPI provisions in Senate Bill 147 forced the bill’s author, Senator Lois Kolkhorst, to commit to making major changes to the bill to ensure its property prohibitions apply only to foreign governments — not individuals seeking to buy homes.
We are waiting for these proposed changes to be finalized and we will keep up the pressure to hold Senator Kolkhorst and other Republicans accountable throughout the legislative process and ensure they remain true to their word.
There are approximately half a million “green card” holders from China alone living in the United States.
As Rep. Gene Wu of Houston said, after an unprecedented rise in anti-Asian hate around the nation, Texas’s Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities continue to struggle against not only violence within our society, but with political persecution as well.
Without these critical changes, S.B. 147 would have also hampered progress made by Texas businesses that have spent decades recruiting investors from around the world to open offices and factories in — and bring countless jobs to — our state.
Moreover, the bill would have violated Article I, Section 3a of the Texas Constitution which states that equality under the law shall not be denied or abridged on the basis of race, creed, or national origin.
We as Texas Democrats acknowledge these common sense changes to the legislation as a step in the right direction. But the fight is not over — we are going to continue keeping up the pressure until this legislation reflects our true values as a nation of immigrants.
Though the proposed amendments ease restrictions for dual citizens and lawful permanent residents (green card holders), it would bar H-1B visa holders, students, refugees fleeing persecution, and other hard-working immigrants from exercising their full property rights allowed by the federal government under the conditions of their lawful admission.
Additionally, not only was the original S.B. 147 problematic but there are still several bills (S.B. 711, S.B. 552, H.B. 1075) on the docket that are targeting the rights of immigrants to purchase land and build businesses.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that Governor Abbott was vocally supportive of the original S.B. 147 as written — meaning not only is he OK with blatant discrimination against AAPI Texans, but that he celebrates it.
Texas Democrats will never waiver in our fight for AAPI justice — and we will always stand up against racist hate and bigotry in any form.
H.B. 300 (Period + Maternity Product Sales Tax Exemption)
UPDATE: This bill just passed the House unanimously.
Last week, the Texas House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing on Representative Donna Howard’s H.B. 300, which would
Though we’re frustrated that legislation like this has to even exist, we’re grateful to Representative Howard for her leadership, helping
We look forward to this Speaker-prioritized bill passing the legislature and being enacted into law swiftly.
S.B. 2 (Felony Charges for Voting Errors)
UPDATE: This bill passed the Senate this week and has moved to the House for consideration.
TOPLINE: Texas Republicans are considering increasing the penalty for honest mistakes while voting – from a misdemeanor to a second-degree felony. Our right to vote is the foundation of our democracy and we'll stop at nothing to defend that right.
If you recently moved to a new county and this administration's #2 priority bill becomes law, you'd be at risk for a longer prison sentence than if you kidnapped a child — just by trying to vote.
That may sound unbelievable, but it's true. Under current Texas law, a person has to intend to vote illegally to be convicted for that crime. Senate Bill 2 — Texas Republicans' #2 legislative priority — would get rid of that intent requirement. Instead, a DA would only have to prove that you were aware of a "particular circumstance" that made you ineligible to vote to convict you.
What kind of "circumstances" make you ineligible? You're probably familiar with age and citizenship requirements to vote. But county residency is also an eligibility requirement. If you move to a new county, you're no longer eligible to vote in your old one. Simply knowing which county you live in qualifies as awareness of a "circumstance" making you ineligible to vote, so if you try to vote in your old county, or try to vote without your registration update going through, you could be prosecuted. Your DA could have you arrested and seek a penalty between two to 20 years in jail — greater than the state law penalty for kidnapping.
Why give prosecutors unchecked power to prosecute honest mistakes? Republican politicians are betting that if they scare away enough voters of either party, and give prosecutors free rein to make an example of someone from the opposite party, election results will come out in their favor. Or if the results don't go their way, they can kick up enough dust to undermine confidence in them. There's really no other explanation for this bill that makes sense.
But we as Texans don't appreciate attempts at intimidation, and certainly not from politicians too afraid to face their own voters.
Call your elected officials in the House and tell them to vote against SB 2.
And know that as Texas Democrats, we'll keep pushing to restore — not criminalize — the right to vote for all Texans, no matter where in the state you live, which party you support, or whether your local DA is a Republican or Democrat.
H.B. 2127 (Attack on Local Freedom)
UPDATE: This bill is in committee and has received its first public hearing.
Over the past few legislative sessions, Texas Republicans at the state level have passed several bills interfering with the affairs of local-level (city, county, etc.) governance — all in an agenda to further their far-right agenda and impose it on voters who clearly and unequivocally rejected it at the ballot box.
But this session, Republicans in the Legislature appear poised to take these assaults to a new level, particularly with H.B. 2127.
The Houston Chronicle reports that far-right Republicans in the Legislature will try to pass legislation this session…
“Enhancing state oversight of county-run elections…
“taking aim at progressive judges and prosecutors…
“slashing local officials' emergency powers…
“and broadly restricting the types of regulations cities and counties can enact.”
Let’s be clear: the millions of voters in counties like Dallas, Harris, Travis, and Bexar did not vote to have Republicans’ arch-conservative ideologies forced upon them. In fact, in just the last election, these urban voters voted overwhelmingly (by a nearly 20-point margin) to reject Republican’s extremist ideologies.
Governor Abbott and Texas Republicans have for time immemorial spoken about the need to govern from the most local level possible – and we agree.
We trust that community leaders know their communities far better than Texas Republicans at the Capitol do, and local decisions should be made by local school districts, cities, and counties — local leaders, mayors, and county judges who know their jurisdictions best.
Texas Democrats will fight vehemently against any far-right, ideologically-driven state takeovers of local Texas communities.
H.B. 2390 (Banning Polling Places from Colleges + Universities)
UPDATE: This bill is currently being reviewed at the House committee level.
It’s already difficult enough for college students to navigate the maze of laws surrounding voting in Texas.
Forcing students to go miles from the campuses they spend the overwhelming majority of their time on — just to cast their vote — would in practice be barring many of them from being able to vote at all, especially when you consider how many college students don’t have access to a car.
Should this backwards legislation gain any traction whatsoever, Texas Democrats will work diligently with our college communities to oppose it at every step.
We will always fight for all eligible Texans — regardless of age, geography, or life circumstances — to have access to the ballot, regardless of their political affiliation.
In fact, Democratic State Representative Gina Hinojosa already filed a bill that would ensure that any county with a college or university of 8,000 or more students designate a polling place on the school’s main campus.
[On the argument that having a polling place on campus raises security concerns]:
That’s complete nonsense. Having a polling place in an area has nothing to do with increasing or decreasing safety in that area.
For generations, we’ve had polling places at local churches, community centers, schools, and countless other local public spaces — with no extraneous security concerns outside of the day-to-day norm.
This is simply a transparent attempt at making it more difficult for college students to cast their votes — and, in turn, suppressing the youth vote.
[On the proposal to instead bus students off campus to polling places]:
The more barriers you place between someone and casting their vote — including forcing them to take a bus across town — the more likely they are to give up on voting entirely.
We should be making it easier and less time-consuming for college students in Texas to cast their ballot, not the other way around.
This proposition is, again, just a transparent attempt at making it more difficult for college students to cast their votes — and, in turn, suppressing the youth vote.
[On the proposition that Republicans will also work to eliminate polling places at K-12 schools]:
If Republicans go through with their proposed effort to eliminate polling places at K-12 schools in Texas, it would be among their most aggressive attacks yet on voting rights in Texas.
The goal here has nothing to do with security — having a polling place in an area has nothing to do with increasing or decreasing safety in that area.
Republicans’ goal is to make it as difficult as possible for Texans to vote — because they know that the majority of Texans disagree with their backwards, arcane policies… and the only way they’re able to hold onto power is by making it more difficult for Texans (especially young, disabled, and minority Texans) to have their voice heard.
Texas Democrats will never waver in our fight for all eligible Texans — regardless of age, geography, or life circumstances — to have access to the ballot, regardless of their political affiliation.
S.B. 8 - Education Savings Accounts (School Vouchers)
A bill that would create a program to let parents use state funds to pay for private schools — a longtime conservative goal, a top cause of Gov. Greg Abbott in this legislative session and a big concern for public education advocates — was approved in the Texas Senate April 6, 2023 and will move to the House for Committee Hearing.
Senate Bill 8, by Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, passed with an 18-13 vote along party lines. Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, was the only Republican to vote against it.
“We have the obligation to give Texas students more choices," Creighton said on his bill. “It empowers parents to make decisions for better outcomes.”
The Senate also voted unanimously for an accompanying piece of legislation, Senate Bill 9, which would give a one-time bonus to teachers of $2,000 and a $6,000 one-time bonus to those in districts with less than 20,000 students. It also establishes funding for schools to establish residency programs to better prepare teachers. The bill got preliminary approval with a 22-9 vote.
The bill was not popular among teacher groups, which said educators deserved an across-the-board pay raise, or at least a higher one-time bonus to make up for inflation.
See also SB176, HB 557, HB619, HB 1892, SJR 29
Dan Patrick’s Legislative Priorities
Dan Patrick released his set of legislative priorities – and they make clear what we already knew: this session, Republicans will be focused more on culture wars and defunding public schools than improving the lives of working families in Texas.
Writ large, the list of priorities show that Texas Republicans remain woefully out-of-touch with what the kitchen table issues in our state really are.
There are entire “priorities” revolving around banning books in the classroom, defunding public schools, stripping local power away, whitewashing history, and further ostracizing already-vulnerable LGTBQ kids and making their lives even more difficult.