Thirty-eight days after Texas House Democrats staged a walkout to prevent Republicans from reaching the quorum needed to pass a disastrous voting rights bill, the state’s governor is striking back full force. Gov. Greg. Abbott issued a proclamation and accompanying news release on Wednesday to announce 11 horrific agenda items for a special legislative session planned for 10 AM EST Thursday. “Unlike a regular session, only Abbott can say what topic lawmakers consider during a special session,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter Eleanor Dearman wrote.
Although Abbott didn’t specifically name Senate Bill 7 as an agenda item, aspects of the bill will likely come up under a section the governor dubbed “election integrity.” The bill that both President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris called an “assault” on democracy would cut early voting hours, increase access for "partisan poll watchers," and add a photo identification requirement that follows in Georgia’s footsteps, according to the Texas Tribune. The proposed legislation also promises to ban drive-thru voting similar to a bill that Alabama’s governor signed into law in May.
As expected, Texas Republicans used the special legislative session on Thursday to revive restrictive voting rights legislation they failed to pass when House Democrats staged their walkout to block Senate Bill 7. Senate Bill 1, and the House’s version, Bill 3, were the end result of the session, NBC News reported. Both bills would require photo IDs for casting absentee ballots, criminalize voting violations, ban drive-thru and overnight voting options during the early voting period, and "empower partisan poll watchers," the news network reported.
The State Affairs committee is giving the public just two minutes to testify about Senate Bill 1 during a public hearing set for 11 EST on Saturday, the Houston Chronicle reported. The hearing will allow an added two minutes for the public to testify about Senate Bill 31.
"The 87th Legislative Session was a monumental success for the people of Texas, but we have unfinished business to ensure that Texas remains the most exceptional state in America,” Abbott said in the news release. "Two of my emergency items, along with other important legislation, did not make it to my desk during the regular session, and we have a responsibility to finish the job on behalf of all Texans.
“These Special Session priority items put the people of Texas first and will keep the Lone Star State on a path to prosperity. I look forward to working with my partners in the Legislature to pass this legislation as we build a brighter future for all who call Texas home."
If Abbott had his way, that “brighter future” would ban transgender athletes from competing with university teams that correspond with their gender identity, give border patrol more money to terrorize families fleeing their home countries in fear of their safety, and through House Bill 20 make it more difficult for people to bond out of jail without cash.
Public defender Scott Hechinger tweeted: "Jaquaree Simmons. Probably haven't heard of him. Just 23. Caged pretrial in TX. Called mom almost every day from his jail cell. Crying & begging for help. One week later, found dead. Only answers for his family is HB 20. Law that'll only make things worse." Hechinger, who's been working with the nonprofit Texas Jail Project to document jail deaths and reduce harm caused to those in small county jails, went on to say that more than 60% of those in Texas jails, or about 40,000 people, have not been convicted of a crime and are “caged” because “they cannot afford bail.”
“Yet racist Gov. Abbott, police, prosecutors want more to suffer. This bill--HB 20--will literally take away power from judges to release people. It's sinister,” Hechinger tweeted.
What’s worse is that the bail reform item is only the tip of the iceberg in Abbott’s plan. His agenda also includes legislation the Texas American Federation of Teachers described as an effort to ban in-public school discussion of critical race theory and journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones’ groundbreaking 1619 Project, which framed American history through the experience of slavery and contributions of Black people. The union said in a statement in June that it plans to fight the legislation:
”HB 3979 had a long, strange trip through the Legislature this spring. In its original form it was presented as a civics bill that required the teaching of several writings foundational to the birth of the United States. But other language in the bill addressing controversial topics over race made it immediately clear that the legislation was intended to be a ban on teaching Critical Race Theory (CRT) and the 1619 Project—which a wave of Republican-controlled legislatures across the country have been trying to ban in the past couple of months. While the Critical Race theory mainly explores the intersection of the law and race, and the 1619 Project essays highlight little-known issues around slavery, they nonetheless have become a target for conservative activists around the country.
Now Gov. Abbott has joined the fray and likely intends to try and pass legislation that is more implicit in banning CRT and the 1619 Project, while also cutting out a series of additions for required curriculum that Democrats added to the bill with amendments—such as writings on civil rights, slavery, Native Americans, Mexican Americans, and the labor movement. (The Senate, facing a tight deadline at the end of the session, was forced to pass the House’s version of the bill.)
With a law that already stifles freedom of speech and any well-nuanced instruction on the role of racism and slavery in our country’s founding, it’s concerning that the governor wants to push the agenda of white-washing our history even further. Texas AFT values the professionalism of our teachers to be free to present accurate and balanced information when teaching controversial subjects. We will be ready to fight this legislation when it surfaces in a special session, the date for which has not been announced yet.”
Now that the date for the special session has been announced, the teachers’ union isn’t the only facet ready to fight. Beto O'Rourke, former U.S. House of Representative member representing Texas's 16th congressional district, tweeted in response to the list: “Texas Democrats: Hold the line. This is about the future of our democracy and the right to vote for every single Texan. The people of Texas are with you — every step of the way.” Democrat Julián Castro, who's from San Antonio, tweeted: “This is a make or break moment for voting rights in Texas. Texas Democrats used every tool in the toolbox to block Republicans’ voter suppression bill. Now we need to have their backs again. RT if you stand with Texas Democrats and against voter suppression.”
Read the governor’s complete list of agenda items below:
- BAIL REFORM: Legislation reforming the bail system in Texas to protect the public from accused criminals who may be released on bail.
- ELECTION INTEGRITY: Legislation strengthening the integrity of elections in Texas.
- BORDER SECURITY: Legislation providing funding to support law-enforcement agencies, counties, and other strategies as part of Texas’ comprehensive border security plan.
- SOCIAL MEDIA CENSORSHIP: Legislation safeguarding the freedom of speech by protecting social-media users from being censored by social-media companies based on the user’s expressed viewpoints, including by providing a legal remedy for those wrongfully excluded from a platform.
- ARTICLE X FUNDING: Legislation providing appropriations to the Legislature and legislative agencies in Article X of the General Appropriations Act.
- FAMILY VIOLENCE PREVENTION: Legislation similar to Senate Bill 1109 from the 87th Legislature, Regular Session, requiring schools to provide appropriate education to middle- and high-school students about dating violence, domestic violence, and child abuse, but that recognizes the right of parents to opt their children out of the instruction.
- YOUTH SPORTS: Legislation identical to Senate Bill 29 as passed by the Texas Senate in the 87th Legislature, Regular Session, disallowing a student from competing in University Interscholastic League athletic competitions designated for the sex opposite to the student’s sex at birth.
- ABORTION-INDUCING DRUGS: Legislation similar to Senate Bill 394 from the 87th Legislature, Regular Session, which prohibits people from providing abortion-inducing drugs by mail or delivery service, strengthens the laws applicable to the reporting of abortions and abortion complications, and ensures that no abortion-inducing drugs are provided unless there is voluntary and informed consent.
- THIRTEENTH CHECK: Legislation similar to House Bill 3507 from the 87th Legislature, Regular Session, relating to a “thirteenth check” or one-time supplemental payment of benefits under the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.
- CRITICAL RACE THEORY: Legislation similar to House Bill 3979 concerning critical race theory as originally passed by the Texas Senate in the 87th Legislature, Regular Session.
- APPROPRIATIONS: Legislation providing appropriations from additional available general revenue for the following purposes:
- property-tax relief;
- enhanced protection for the safety of children in Texas’ foster-care system by attracting and retaining private providers for the system; and
- to better safeguard the state from potential cybersecurity threats.
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