There is less than a month left in the current Texas Legislative Session, and there are a lot of bills that African Americans should be paying attention to before the Texas State Legislature adjourns on May 29, 2023. Some of these key bills surrounding criminal justice, banning natural hair discrimination, education, maternal health care, voting rights, and others, should be on everyone’s radar as Texas legislators head down the home stretch of this legislative session.
For months, the Forward Times has been talking about one particular bill that has already overwhelmingly passed the Texas Senate (30-1), and is set to be discussed in the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee at the time of this article being published.
Back in March, the Forward Times published an article entitled SB 23: MANDATORY MINIMUMS = MASS INCARCERATION, where we discussed the seemingly problematic details regarding Texas Senate Bill 23 (Creating A Mandatory 10-Year Prison Sentence for Criminals Committing Gun Crime), which seeks to impose a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years to anyone who commits a felony offense in which a firearm is used or exhibited.
You may not have read that clearly, so let’s extract the actual verbiage from the bill, which says:
SECTION 4. Article 42A.102(b), Code of Criminal Procedure, is amended to read as follows:
(b) In all other cases, the judge may grant deferred adjudication community supervision unless:
(1) the defendant is charged with an offense:
(E) that is punishable as a first, second, or
third degree felony listed in Article 42A.054(a), if the judge finds that a firearm was used or exhibited during the commission of the offense or during the immediate flight from the commission of the offense;
What exactly does “if the judge finds that a firearm was used or exhibited during the commission of the offense or during the immediate flight from the commission of the offense” clearly mean for someone who commits a felony?
The word “used” may be clearly understood by many when it comes to the details of this bill, but what exactly does the word “exhibited” mean in relation to this bill, as to how these 10-year mandatory minimum sentences will be handed out?
As we have reported on this issue, mandatory minimum sentencing strips judges of their power and turns it all over to prosecutors, giving them the uninhibited power to press any charges on anyone they wish to—without consequences or repercussions.
Mandatory minimum sentencing gives prosecutors the ability to serve as both judge and jury on cases, thus tying the hands of judges and rendering them unable to do anything relative to issuing a sentence they believe best fits the actual crime committed, well, because it would be state law.
According to a recent study presented by the University of Michigan Law School Scholarship Repository, mandatory minimum charges from prosecutors resulted in Blacks spending more time in prison than whites for the exact same crimes, and prosecutors brought mandatory minimums 65 percent more often against Black defendants, all else remaining equal.
Also, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, mandatory minimums “provide prosecutors with weapons to bludgeon defendants into effectively coerced plea bargains” and they convince people to cooperate against others for lesser, to no time, in prison.
As stated, this bill has already overwhelmingly passed the Texas Senate, and is set to be discussed in the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee at the time of this article being published.
Another bill being closely watched is House Bill 567 (CROWN Act, which is an acronym for Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair). This bill, authored by State Representative Rhetta Bowers (D-Garland), overwhelmingly passed the Texas House last month (143-5), and a companion Texas Senate bill has been filed by State Senator Borris Miles (D-Houston). That bill has not received a hearing by the Senate State Affairs Committee at the time this article was published, but there are many people who are pressing for its passage.
The bill has resurfaced this legislative session, after two Black students at Barbers Hill High School, near the Greater Houston area—Kaden Bradford and De’Andre Arnold—refused to cut their hair after being threatened with punishment if they didn’t comply in 2019. Arnold faced the proposed punishment of not being able to walk on the stage as part of his high school graduation ceremony. Bradford faced the proposed punishment of being indefinitely enrolled in in-school suspension.
This bill, if passed by the Texas Senate, and signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott, would place a prohibition on natural hair discrimination for race-based hairstyles such as braids, twists, and dreadlocks, in schools, at workplaces, and relative to housing.
Master Hairstylist Kimberly Aitch, who operates here in the Greater Houston area, believes the CROWN Act should become law because hair in its natural state is a human right.
“As long as your hair is clean, and not a danger to you or others in a workspace or school, it should not be mandatory for you to change it from its natural state,” said Aitch. “Unfortunately, we are still dealing with racism. Access should not be denied unless we devalue and deny something of ourselves. And the denial of being able to wear your hair in a natural state is an aggression toward your humanity.”
As stated, this bill has already overwhelmingly passed the Texas House, and is awaiting a Senate State Affairs Committee hearing at the time of this article being published. There is still time to let your voices be heard on this bill as well—whether for or against it.
Another bill that is concerning to many is Senate Bill 17, which was passed along party lines last month (19-12). It has now moved over to the Texas House, where it awaits a hearing in the Higher Education Committee at the time of this article being published.
This bill would heavily restrict how public universities in the Lone Star State promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and would ban anything tied to promoting diversity at those public institutions of higher learning, such as: mandatory diversity training, departments asking for diversity statements, job applicants writing essays about their commitment to building diverse campuses, and much more.
State Senator Miles, who voted against the bill when it came to the Texas Senate floor, stated that he voted against SB 17 because he believes it will do all harm and no good.
“There is no logic in the belief that you increase diversity by removing the policies and offices that work to promote it,” said Sen. Miles. “We do not live in a perfect world where everyone has been treated equally and color-blind hiring has been the norm. DEI policies and offices stem from efforts by colleges to correct years of historical discrimination against underrepresented minorities, and that mission is still important today. The banning of DEI will diminish the progress made by these policies and offices; we will see a significant drop in women, people of color and other minorities in positions of power at our universities. Far too many times, legislation is brought on the floor that adversely affects minorities and the voices of minority members go unheard about what affects our communities. SB 17 will not move us forward but backward. This bill is bad for our universities, students, faculty, and all of Texas.”
As stated, this bill passed along party lines and has now moved over to the Texas House, where it awaits a hearing in the Higher Education Committee at the time of this article being published. There is still time to let your voices be heard on this bill—whether for or against it.
State Representative Shawn Thierry (D-Houston) has once again filed a bill, House Bill 1958, which is focused on the racial, cultural, and economic disparities in maternal health care. That bill is awaiting a hearing in the Texas House Health Care Reform, Select Committee at the time this article was published.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), African American mothers are three times as likely to die from birth complications as white mothers. This bill would establish a working group to create an online database on maternal mortality and morbidity, expand Medicaid and extend Medicaid access from six months to a year following childbirth, mandate cultural competency and implicit bias training in medical school and for continuing education purposes, and implement other recommendations from a report done by the state regarding this issue.
As stated, this bill is awaiting a hearing in the Texas House Health Care Reform, Select Committee at the time this article was published. There is still time to let your voices be heard on this bill—whether for or against it.
Relative to voting rights, there were several voting-related bills that passed the Texas Senate last month that impact the ability to vote and other things relative to voting, such as:
- Senate Bill 990: Would eliminate the countywide polling program that allows voters to vote at any polling place in their county on Election Day.
- Senate Bill 260: Would purge a voter from the voter registration list if they have not voted in an election in the previous 25 months.
- Senate Bill 1750: Would eliminate the election administrator position and give that authority to the county tax assessor-collector and county clerk in counties with a population of 3.5 million or more, which would only apply to Harris County, where the city of Houston resides.
Those are just a few of the many voter-related bills that could impact African American voters in the Greater Houston area. Again, these bills have all passed the Texas Senate and are now waiting to be heard in the Texas House Elections Committee. There is still time to let your voices be heard on these bills—whether for or against them.
There are so many other important bills being deliberated this legislative session, but we wanted to share a few that we believe deserve some significant attention before the close of this session.
As the saying goes: If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.
It is never too late to reach out to the elected representatives who represent you and let your voices be heard! There is still time to let your voices be heard on these bills—whether for or against them. Do it now, and encourage other Texas residents to do it as well.