The regular legislative session in Texas has officially ended, and while we are in the midst of a special session related to property taxes and enhancing smuggling charges at the border to harsh levels, we are preparing for additional special sessions this summer.
While the 88th regular session doubled down on racist, xenophobic, transphobic, and homophobic attempts to undermine Texans' civil rights, many advocates from across the state were at the capitol every day, fighting vehemently against harmful legislation that would impact their communities. In the short span of 140 days of the legislative session, our team testified on bills at committee hearings, submitted written testimony, and registered official positions over 200 times on 180+ bills related to our issue areas.
This session, we had some wins, some losses, and some bills we expect to see again soon in a special session. This blog will highlight the victories our programs achieved while working to protect Texans' civil rights during the regular session.
Governor Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick both prioritized increasing pretrial detention, which would keep people in jail for longer periods of time without bail, and removing "rogue district attorneys." These priorities were part of a session theme: undermining local control.
Whether that's through removing elected prosecutors or undermining local control of voting, the state of Texas is looking to impose state priorities on local communities.
SJR 44 and SB 1318, which died in the regular session, would have increased the number of Texans in pretrial detention. However, the battle to kill these bills continues, as both are on Lt. Governor Dan Patrick's short list for a special session.
Additionally, we were deeply disappointed to see efforts to abolish the five youth prisons in Texas fail during this session. However, we supported two bills that passed that aim to keep youth out of the criminal system.
Juvenile curfews don’t work and further criminalize youth in our communities. We were pleased to find that HB 1819, which prohibits juvenile curfews, passed and is headed to the governor’s desk. Additionally, HB 3186, which expands access to youth diversion programs to keep kids out of jails, is also headed to the governor.
Texas prisons are notorious for being among the worst in the country, and Texas is still far from providing humane conditions for incarcerated Texans. We had a few good bills that would provide humane relief for those incarcerated headed to the governor’s desk:
HB 1455 would provide health insurance for individuals who are wrongfully convicted and their dependents.
Food insecurity is very common among people recently released from custody, with 37% reporting not eating for at least one full day because of a lack of resources. Up to 70% of households report having trouble meeting basic needs after incarceration. HB 1743 ensures that incarcerated Texans can apply for supplemental nutrition assistance program benefits at the time of discharge or release.
Additionally, SB 1146 establishes procedures for the medical transport of women in TDCJ custody. Women in TDCJ care enter with underlying health conditions that increase their need for quality, dignified care, and current policies often leave women facing a choice between accessing needed care or suffering deeply humiliating conditions.
We saw some of the worst attacks on border communities during the regular session this year, all with one thing in common: further militarizing the Texas border.
The worst legislation originally came in the form of HB 20 and HB 7, with both bills continuously morphing into different versions of other failed, bad border legislation throughout their journeys across the House and Senate chambers.
HB 20, which intended to create a vigilante border force in Texas, was killed in the House debate but later resurfaced in the form of a substituted HB 7.
HB 7 similarly went through many changes throughout its life cycle. Originally starting out as a bill to codify and fund a new border court system to conduct Operation Lone Star related prosecutions, its most recent version would establish a “border force” under the Texas Rangers.
LUPE RGV and allies drop banner in front of Rep. Guillen’s office (author of HB 7), May 9, 2023
Nevertheless, advocates and allies across the state showed up to express their dissent and opposition to these bills. From hundreds of Texans signing up for public testimony at committee hearings to border community members occupying space at Rep. Guillen’s Capitol office to demand accountability for his harmful bill, HB 7, we saw mobilization efforts against these bills that underscored one thing: this is NOT what Texans want for our communities.
Thankfully, HB 7 did not advance before the formal close of regular session, Sine Die. However, in the first called special session that we are currently in, unfortunately many bills have been filed that revive these dead, dangerous border bills. Specifically, SB 8, which would try to create a state “border force,” and HB 2 and SB 2, which would impose state-level penalties for immigrants desperately seeking refuge and safety.
While our Beyond Borders team is still fighting against these harmful bills in special session, we celebrate the passage of HB 3323, which would empower border communities by creating a food system security council and resiliency planning council.
Our Voting Rights team was hard at work this session to protect the right to vote despite lawmakers' attempts to intimidate voters and make the ballot box less accessible.
One big win we achieved was the passing of SB 477, which made a number of improvements for voters with disabilities! These improvements include: bumping voters with mobility disabilities to the front of the line, reserving two parking places at each polling place for curbside voting and adding clear signage, and requiring county websites to post mail ballot applications so that voters can fill them out online before printing.
Youth Take Over Rally at the Capitol, March 29, 2023
Additionally, HB 357 made the mail-in ballot tracker more user-friendly by changing the way voters look up their ballot.
A bad bill, HB 1243, tried to increase the penalty for illegal voting and attempted illegal voting and reduce the intent requirement for those crimes to not require proof beyond a reasonable doubt that a voter actually knew they were illegally voting. We advocated against this bill, and while it did pass, we successfully removed the intent requirement reduction from the Senate version of the bill so that it could not target voters for making innocent mistakes.
A special shoutout to our attorneys and advocates who worked nonstop to defend the civil rights of Texans this session. From being at the Capitol for over 12 hours waiting to testify on legislation to breaking down the complexities of the bills for the public, your hard work is crucial to creating a better future for Texas!
We also want to thank everyone who engaged with our legislative updates and showed up at the Capitol to make their voices heard! Your solidarity fuels us. La Lucha Sigue!
We will update final bill movements from the upcoming special session(s) as we receive them, so stay tuned!