By William Melhado, The Texas Tribune
“Texas House’s weekend off means key Senate bills die after missing a legislative deadline” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
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A 10-year minimum for gun-related crimes, banning some conversations about race at Texas universities and penalties for libraries who host drag queens reading books are among dozens of high-profile bills written by Texas state senators that have met their demise in the Legislatures’ lower-chamber this weekend.
The Texas House on Saturday was required to advance bills through the committee phase by midnight. However, the House opted to not meet this weekend. The free weekend for state representatives means an untold number of bills can no longer be considered.
Many of the bills that died Saturday focused on LGBTQ issues and race. The House in many instances has watered down or blocked some of the most conservative ideas coming from the upper chamber.
Another torrent of bills authored by the Senate could meet a similar demise if they are not placed on the full House’s agenda by 10 p.m. Sunday.
The House Calendars Committee, which will determine the fate of bills waiting for a spot on the lower chamber’s calendar, will meet just before Sunday’s deadline at 5 p.m.
Each year thousands of bills are introduced by state lawmakers in both chambers — only a fraction become law. Procedural rules such as this weekend’s deadlines often mark the end of the road for many legislative proposals — and can help block legislation that leadership does not want to move forward.
While Saturday and Sunday’s deadlines mean those bills are now off the table, the provisions outlined in those expired proposals could be included as amendments in surviving legislation. Similar proposals written by House members could also be advancing in the Senate, which has fewer procedural deadlines. For example, the Senate is considering a House version of a bill that mirrors Senate Bill 2 that died this weekend. Both bills would reinstate a felony penalty for illegal voting.
The Legislature must end its regular session by May 29. Gov. Greg Abbott has already signaled he’ll likely call lawmakers back to Austin to address one of the bills that died this weekend, a proposal that would have allowed Texas families to use tax dollars to pay for private school tuition.
Here’s a closer look at some of the bills the House killed Saturday.
Senate Bill 2 — Reinstating a felony penalty for illegal voting
Authored by Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, the bill raised the penalty for illegal voting from a misdemeanor to a second degree felony. Hughes’ bill also changes the existing legal wording to what’s known as the “intent requirement.”
This year’s legislation is an attempt at rewriting a provision of the Legislature’s sweeping election overhaul two years ago, in which lawmakers agreed to lower the penalty for illegal voting to a misdemeanor.
That law also says a person commits a crime if they “knowingly or intentionally” vote or attempt to vote in an election in which the person “knows they’re not eligible” to vote. Hughes’ legislation would change that language to include anyone who votes or attempts to vote in an election in which “the person knows of a particular circumstance that makes the person not eligible to vote.”
Senate Bill 2 was one of the first bills approved by the Senate this session. It was referred to the House Elections Committee.
A similar bill however, by Rep. Cole Hefner, R-Mt. Pleasant, and sponsored by Hughes in the Senate — House Bill 1243 — moved quickly out of the House chamber; was heard in the Senate State Affairs Committee and is pending a vote. Hefner’s proposal would only raise the penalty of illegal voting to a felony. The intent language in this proposal would remain the same.
— Natalia Contreras, Votebeat
Senate Bill 23 — Imposing a 10-year minimum for gun-related crimes
Senate Bill 23, from Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, would require people who use a firearm while committing certain felonies to serve at least 10 years in prison or on probation if convicted. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick had designated SB 23 a priority bill.
The bill aimed to serve as a deterrent for criminals. Criminal justice research has shown that mandatory minimums do not reduce crime.
Additionally the bill would preclude judges from offering people charged with some gun-related crimes the opportunity to have convictions wiped from their records if they successfully complete probation. Juries could recommend probation, but it would have to last 10 years, and the conviction could not be removed from a criminal record.
The bill drew an unlikely pairing of opposition from criminal justice reform advocates and some gun rights groups. Criminal justice reform advocates saw the idea as a regression to tough-on-crime policies from the war on drugs while pro-gun advocates feared gun owners could end up facing 10 years in prison for using their gun in self defense.
— Alejandro Serrano
Senate Bill 16 — Banning “critical race theory” from universities
A bill that Patrick dubbed as a ban of critical race theory in higher education failed to get a hearing in the Texas House, after a similar ban was approved for K-12 schools in 2021.
Critical race theory is the academic discipline that studies how racism shapes policies and societal structures. The term recently has been adopted as a catchall to describe a perceived liberal bent in lessons about race and racism.
The proposal prohibits a college or university professor from “compelling” a student to adopt certain political beliefs, a proposal belonging to a slew of legislation introduced this session that university and community college faculty worry will restrict academic freedom in the classroom.
Critics say Senate Bill 16 is overly vague and will create a chilling effect that will prevent important conversations about race and gender. But Republican supporters said the legislation is necessary to protect conservative students who are self-censoring in the classroom.
— Kate McGee
Senate Bill 1601 — Restricting libraries from hosting drag queen story hours
Senate Bill 1601 would have barred libraries from receiving any public money the year following any events in which drag performers read to kids. The legislation, authored by Hughes, aimed to stop libraries from hosting drag queen story hour, which are events in which drag performers read to children.
Supporters argued that this legislation is designed to prevent children from being exposed to sexual content. Legislation blocking children from seeing drag shows has been a priority for many Republicans this session. Anti-drag panic, fueled by a small group of activists and extremist groups, has characterized these types of performances as inherently and nefariously sexual regardless of the content or audience.
Opponents of the bill argue that these reading events are meant to promote literacy and drag queens don’t include any sexually-oriented material when performing in front of children in a library.
Senate Bill 1029 — Holding doctors and insurers financially liable for transition-related care
Senate Bill 1029 would make physicians and health insurers financially liable for patients’ lifetime medical costs resulting from complications of transition-related care — even if the providers aren’t at fault.
Opponents said the bill would hinder all transgender Texans’ access to gender-affirming medical care. Restricting this type of treatment for children has been a priority for Republicans this session. The House and Senate successfully passed Senate Bill 14, which would do just that.
While SB 1029 doesn’t ban such care outright, health groups and LGBTQ advocates say the financial risks it would create would likely dissuade insurance companies from covering such treatments and doctors from providing hormone therapies and gender-affirming surgeries to trans people of all ages in the state.
Throughout the legislative session, people who detransitioned shared their struggle to find providers and health care to help reverse the effects of transition-related care. Supporters of SB 1029 argue doctors and insurance companies should be responsible for patients who received transition-related care who are unsatisfied with the results.
Senate Bill 8 — Using taxpayer dollars to fund private school tuition
The consequential legislation to use taxpayer dollars to pay for private schools — a priority for both Abbott and Patrick — expired after failing to make it out of a House committee. The governor has already suggested he will call a special session to ensure Texas passes some form of education savings accounts.
Senate Bill 8, authored by Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe would have given families money to pay for private school tuition. The provision was drastically changed and limited the bill’s scope from the version passed in the Senate in an effort to gain enough support for passage.
House Democrats teamed up with rural Republicans to oppose the effort, arguing that such programs siphon funds away from public schools.
Senate Bill 147 — Limiting farmland sales to China, other countries
A watered-down version of Senate Bill 147, which originally sought to prohibit land sales to citizens of China and other countries, expired after failing to get a vote in the House State Affairs Committee. The amended version restricts purchases of agricultural land, timberland and oil and gas rights by entities associated with any country that “poses a risk to the national security of the United States.”
Republican senators advocating for this legislation argued the bill would help strengthen Texas’ food and energy security against international influences.
The original bill met staunch opposition from Asian American groups that said this type of legislation furthered anti-Asian sentiments, already on the rise, and would make it more difficult for dual citizens to start businesses or buy homes. Democratic lawmakers also criticized the bill. Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said this bill would harm Asian American communities in Texas by “putting them in jeopardy from racists.”
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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/05/20/texas-lgbtq-guns-education-bills-die/.
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