Sandra Bland Act/Texas Redistricting Case Update/Cash or Cuffs/Federal Healthcare Update

Say Her Name

The passage of the Sandra Bland Act was possible in part of the hard work from grassroots organizations, like the Austin Justice Coalition co-founded by Fatima Mann. Below, you can read this week’s Trib Talk, written by Fatima reflecting on Sandra Bland and the legislation bearing her name.

Representative Coleman and Fatima Mann on May 26, 2017.

The life of Sandra Bland embodied in legislation
By Fatima Mann | May 26, 2017

The version of the Sandra Bland Act bill passed by the Legislature is like an alcoholic beverage where the ice has melted. It no longer retains the Texas House’s potent non-jailable provisions that stipulated no one could be arrested for committing an offense that is punishable only by fine. Although it remains an amazing bill, it does not speak to the case of Sandra Bland, who should never have been arrested and found dead days later in a Waller County jail. The bill addresses how law enforcement will be trained, jails will be equipped and what resources will be available to people with mental illness, substance abuse or intellectual differences.

Like many people in the community, when I first read the Senate’s final version bill, I was upset. The version presented by State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, seemed to be derived from the concept of making sure no one else would be detained and treated as Sandra Bland and all those who’ve died in similar circumstances had been.

This bill now has no recognition of non-jailable offenses or pre-textual stops — where a person stopped for one thing is detained, charged or arrested for another. This version of the bill did not represent the cause for organizing in the name of Sandra Bland. It does not reflect how Sandra Bland became #SandyStillSpeaks.

As a person who saw herself when she saw Sandra Bland, I found the bill disappointing. She and I were the same age when she was found dead. I drove from Texas to Connecticut by myself in May she was pulled over in Texas and later found dead in a Texas jail in July. She spoke out about injustices in videos and in her Facebook posts. Sandra Bland could have been me, and the bill in its original form made sure that no one else could be treated like Sandra Bland, including me.

Coleman’s version of the bill — the Senate author was John Whitmire, D-Houston — was too much for the agencies advocating and lobbying on the behalf of law enforcement. I have yet to figure out why law enforcement would not like to have a standard to follow. It would have set guidelines in how law enforcement should engage with the people they are sworn to protect. Law enforcement is an industry that protects and serves civilians, so why wouldn’t it favor a law to illustrate how to make its interactions holistically better for everyone. Having policy that holds peace officers accountable is honorable. Peace officers, like other professionals, need guidelines that provide a positive and sustainable effect on officers and the communities they serve. The House version of the bill would have created great guidelines for holding law enforcement accountable when necessary.

Although the final version of the legsialtion, Senate Bill 1849, may not speak to Sandra’s death, it embodies her life of wanting to make a difference for people of African ancestry. She posted videos of herself speaking on issues people of the African diaspora faced in the United States. She recorded and posted herself speaking on the need for implementing policies that protect people in the community. Sandy used her voice to speak on the need for systemic change. The Sandra Bland Act will create a foundation for reform that does not currently exist. Sandy’s death almost two years ago sparked the formation of adequate policy that will change the lives of so many Texans.

The final version of this legislation embodies the spirit of Sandy’s life and the work she did to improve the community. Even though the bill does not address how she died, it does embody how she lived. She did not die because she had a mental health issue, she died because she should have never been detained for committing a non-jailable offense.

Sandy spoke into her life that she would change the world. Her words inspired a bill that will create sustainable change.

Fatima Mann, Co-founder, Austin Justice Coalition and Counter Balance: Atx

Thank you, Speaker Straus

Thank you Speaker Straus for presenting me with the gavel used during the final passage of the Sandra Bland Act on May 20, 2017.

It Takes a Village

These are the Texas House Committee Chairs that participated in the passage of the Sandra Bland Act and Senate Bill 30 alongside the Texas House Speaker Joe Straus who was instrumental in the passage.

Clockwise from the top left:
Chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety Phil King
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus
Chair of the House Committee on Corrections James White
Chairwoman of the House Committee on Local and Consent Calendars and author of SB 30 Senfronia Thompson
-Chair of the House Committee on County Affairs and author of the Sandra Bland Act Garnet Coleman
Chair of the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence Joe Moody

Texas Redistricting Case Update

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that lawmakers in North Carolina illegally drew maps that lawmakers that disenfranchised people of color. This gerrymandering case could have major implications for Texas, which is no stranger to redistricting disputes.

Monday’s Supreme Court ruling said plaintiffs could successfully challenge the use of race in redistricting, even if lawmakers claim they were motivated by politics.

In March, a three-judge federal panel in San Antonio ruled that Texas lawmakers knowingly discriminated in drawing the state’s congressional map, and flagged particular violations in the 23rd Congressional District, represented by Will Hurd (R-Helotes); the 27th, represented by Blake Farenthold (R-Corpus Christi); and the 35th, represented by Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin).

In April, the judges concluded in a 2-1 ruling that the 2011 Texas Legislature intentionally diluted the clout of minority voters statewide — and specifically in a number of state House districts across Texas.

The state is appealing those rulings.

Though Texas’ court dispute isn’t precisely the same as North Carolina’s, they both feature a similar line of defense — that partisanship, not race, motivated map drawers.

The Texas redistricting case is in July and will consider what the state’s political boundaries should look like for the 2018 elections.

I am proud to be a member of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) and for all the tremendous work of their voting rights team and partners during this fight.

Click here to read more.

Image result for political cartoon redistricting

Cash or Cuffs?

On May 15, Representative Armando Walle (D-140) and I sent a letter to the Office of the Harris County Attorney regarding the recent decision by the Harris County Commissioner’s Court to appeal the April 28, 2017 ruling by Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal in O’Donnell v. Harris County, ordering Harris County to release misdemeanor defendants on personal bonds within 24 hours after they sign an affidavit stating they cannot afford cash bail.We are disappointed in the county’s decision to continue litigation and appeal Judge Rosenthal’s thorough and comprehensive decision condemning Harris County’s pretrial detention system, especially when the county has already paid almost $3 million to outside counsel representing defendants in the case.

From 2015 through January 2017, roughly 9 percent of detainees were given personal bonds.  Over that same period, bail hearing officers ignored Harris County Pretrial Services recommendations to release folks on personal bonds 67 percent of the time. We believe these policies and practices can lead to dangerous situations, particularly considering most of the over 1,100 people who died in Texas jails in the past decade were pretrial detainees—according to a 2015 Houston Chronicle investigation. In Harris County, from 2009 to 2015, 55 people died in pretrial detention, including some defendants arrested for misdemeanors, similar to the ones that initiated this litigation.

We urge the Courts to drop the appeals, move forward with the judge’s orders by settling the lawsuit in the bail case, and release all indigent misdemeanor defendants on a personal bond within 24 hours of arrest, unless they are subject to another hold, per Judge Rosenthal’s direction.  The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the Presiding Judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals both agree that the traditional money bail system is unconstitutional as it jails people who cannot afford bail money.  It is unacceptable to continue wasting millions of taxpayer dollars to defend this cruel treatment of the poorest members of our society. We must put an end to jailing people who are charged with misdemeanors simply because they cannot pay bail.

Click here for a PDF version of the letter.

Image result for harris county commissioners courts

Healthcare Update

On Wednesday, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released their report on the U.S. House G.O.P. healthcare bill. The plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act failed to get a vote on it in March and passed it by only four votes in April–without waiting for the CBO report. The U.S. House G.O.P. was in such a hurry to vote on their bad healthcare bill that they did not wait for the CBO analysis, showing that they voted without fully understanding its repercussions on millions of Americans.

The U.S. House G.O.P. healthcare bill will leave 23 million people without coverage by 2026 as a result of cuts to Medicaid, subsidies and rising premiums. This would be the single largest one-year decline in coverage in recorded history. The U.S. House G.O.P. claims their plan would lower healthcare costs for many Americans in the long run, but at the cost of our most vulnerable populations like the children, elderly, and those with pre-existing conditions.

The U.S. House G.O.P. plan will allow for insurance companies to raise prices for people with pre-existing conditions, like cancer. It also cuts funding for Medicaid and temporarily cuts off funding for Planned Parenthood.

The new CBO analysis shows that the G.O.P. health care bill will:

  • Add an average of about 20 percent to individual market premiums next year, on top of the projected 6.5 percent annual increase under the current law
  • Let insurers charge older Americans five times more than they charge young adults (up from the three times more allowed under Obamacare)
  • Insurers may withdraw because of “substantial uncertainty,” and markets with one-sixth of the nation’s residents could become unstable starting in 2020

Now, the U.S. Senate will have their say and so far, Senators from both sides of the aisle are not fans of the U.S. House G.O.P. healthcare plan and have been working on their own bill. After the Senate, the bill would be sent to a conference to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions. Then, it would still have to pass the House and the Senate again before it ever gets to the president.Please call U.S. Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and ask them to vote NO on the G.O.P. healthcare plan.

Sen. Cornyn:
(202) 224-2934 in Washington D.C.
(713) 572-3337 in Houston
Fax: (202) 224-5220
Click here to email Senator Cornyn.

Sen. Cruz:
(202) 224-5922 in Washington D.C.
(713) 718-3057 in Houston
Fax: (202) 228-0755 in Washington D.C.
Click here to email Senator Cruz.

I will continue to keep you updated on this very important issue.

Over 9,000 bills were filed during the 85th Legislative Session. Our song of the week is “Bills, Bills, Bills” by Destiny’s Child.

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