As Education Committee Chair of this organization, I want to not only post this legislative report but also reiterate the importance of coalitions for legislative success. Moreover, I applaud Ana and Erick for their extraordinary leadership this session, as well as the UT LULAC Longhorn Council, generally. All of these young people inspire the hope that the next generation will indeed keep the world on track.
B/4 getting too comfortable though, check out the other post titled, "Call the Governor," to let him know what you think about bills on his desk. Hope all are having a good Sunday. -Angela
79th Legislative Session Summary for Texas LULAC
by Ana Yanez-Correa, LULAC’s Legislative Liaison to the Southwest
and Erick Fajardo, UT LULAC Longhorn Council
If it can happen in Texas….
Coalition building, grass roots organizing and strategic planning produce legislative results in Texas
The 140-day-long 79th Texas Legislative Session included a multitude of debates over legislation that could have had potentially devastating effects on the citizens of Texas, particularly the state’s Latino population. At the beginning, however, there was hope that the climate at the capitol would reflect a change this time around.
But with each new bill filed, it became clear that the proposed pieces of legislation would leave advocates working “damage control” on critical areas of policy, such as education. Issues like criminal justice, on the other hand, seemed to be in an ideal position for advocates to take a proactive approach on creating change in Texas.
Coalition Building and Bipartisanship
In a hostile environment, organizations who advocate for change must make lemonade out of lemons. An effective tool utilized throughout the legislative session was the art of coalition building. In a historical joint effort, Texas LULAC and the Texas State Branches of the NAACP headed to the capitol to seek real change for concerns that affect the collective communities. LULAC and NAACP young adults gathered with over a hundred of their adult counterparts to meet with their legislators during the LULAC & NAACP Legislative Mobilization Day. As that day would come to demonstrate,the courage and strength of its organizational members is directly responsible for LULAC’s successes in Texas.
As mentioned above, “damage control” and other preventive measures were needed in several areas of state policy, specifically when it came to issues concerning education and immigration. With the help of United Farm Workers, People for the American Way, the ACLU, the Intercultural Development Research Association, the Center for Public Policy Priorities, MALDEF, and thousands of grass roots activists, Texas LULAC volunteer legislative liaisons acted swiftly when it came time to block potentially detrimental legislation from passing. Such harmful measures included several proposals to implement a private school vouchers program; a bill that would have prohibited the use of a matricula consular as a valid form of identification; several proposals to either undo or cap the Top Ten Percent Plan; over 100 bills that would have enhanced certain low level misdemeanors to the category of felony; and a bill that would have allowed the State Board of Education to omit certain historical facts from high school textbooks.
But civil rights groups like LULAC were not alone in their struggle. Groups from all over the state headed to the capitol to obtain support from state legislators to address reforms for outlined issues with the state’s criminal justice system. These groups advocated for improvement of community conditions through effective policy solutions. Together, a group of unlikely coalition partners, including ministers, civil rights groups, and formerly incarcerated persons made an impact on public opinion and Texas legislators. These groups included Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, Restorative Justice Ministries Network, Winner’s Circle Peer Support Network, Mothers (Fathers) for the Advancement of Social Systems, the Ministry Advisory Council, Texas Inmate Families Association, 2000 Roses, and Texas Justice Network and many others.
House Bill 2193 was written to focus the state's resources on the most dangerous offenders while giving judges more discretion to place nonviolent offenders in treatment and community supervision. HB 2193 makes sure people on probation have positive incentives to earn back their rights through good conduct, while freeing up millions for public schools, healthcare and drug treatment. It also gives back to judges the authority and duty to determine who should get probation, what the conditions of supervision should be and when and how supervision should be ended.
In addition to refurbishing the probation system, LULAC, NAACP, ACLU, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (TCJC) and the National Rifle Association (NRA) strove toward a common purpose to formulate legislative proposals that would further protect Texans’ fourth amendment rights – the right to be free of unlawful searches and seizures. The collective work of coalition members at both the capitol and the grassroots level ultimately contributed to the passage of SB 1195.
Advocacy groups over the years had learned that many Texans do not realize that they have the right to say ‘no’ to a consent search. As a result, they are consenting to searches in instances where officers have no legal basis for conducting a search. But more importantly, it became apparent that these “no cause” searches have been wasting tax dollars. In fact, Texas data reveals that nearly 90% of these searches do not expose any wrongdoing, while in the meantime other crimes go unsolved. Many jurisdictions have already banned consent searches, thereby shifting their officers’ focus towards criminal behavior – and, in effect, shifting their time and energy away from inefficient and ineffective policing practices. Though SB 1195 would not ban consent searches, the bill would require police officers to obtain written consent before searching a vehicle – allowing citizens to learn of their rights before being searched.
Another piece of legislation that was years in the making and made it through this session was HB 3152, a bill addressing the inequities in the court system for the indigent. It is no secret Texas courts are disproportionately punitive to low-income individuals, especially for those unable to pay for an attorney. In over half of Texas counties, fewer than 10% of defendants facing possible imprisonment receive their appointed counsel. Unfortunately, it is not unusual for prosecutors or judges to encourage a defendant to enter an uncounseled plea, despite that defendant’s request for appointed counsel. Such clear violations of constitutional law create the risk that warranted convictions might be overturned because they were illegally obtained. In the end, every defendant facing imprisonment should have access to counsel. Without the protected right to an attorney in Texas, families are harmed, public confidence in the criminal justice system is undermined, and taxpayers waste money on repeated trials and wrongful incarcerations.
These bills that represent a major correction in Texas criminal justice policy are a positive step forward. HB 2193, HB 3152, and SB 1195 now await a decision from Texas Governor, Rick Perry.
The Success of Activism
The support and activism of our organizational members in Texas inspired our legislators to create policy that makes Texas a better place. Beyond legislative victories, it is important to note that the coalition building that successfully occurred in Texas can serve as a model for others to use. This strategy can have a boundless impact on the on going struggle to advocate for change and can be used as a national model.