The 30-day Special Session ended Tuesday and did not go well for people living in urban areas. Below is a recap of the bills that passed during the special session. Some are positive steps forward, such as the extension of the Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force, but most are taking steps back, such as the school finance bill that Lt. Gov. Patrick and the Senate.
Annexation Reform & Trees Ordinances
SB 6 allows Texans to vote on whether cities in large counties can annex areas outside of their city limits. SB 6 will make it more difficult for cities to annex property. Without approval from half of the property owners, the annexation process would fail. Annexation is a valuable tool for city planners. State annexation rules are already complex and limit how much property cities may annex. Holding an election costs money and could create a financial burden.
HB 7 places limits on local tree ordinances, targeting mainly urban areas. Cities use these ordinances to help replant or institute fees after a tree is removed.
I voted against both of these bills, which are needless attacks on local governments’ ability to serve its people.
The original bill (HB 21) to address public school finance in Texas would have helped all public school children. Lt. Gov. Patrick and the Senate amended the Senate Committee Substitute to HB 21 beyond recognition. The Senate’s substituted version of HB 21 only benefits a narrow fraction of school children and does nothing to help urban and suburban school children and districts, including Houston Independent School District (HISD).
Originally the bill provided $1.8 billion for all Texas public schools. Per student funding would have increased by $375 per year in the original HB 21 I voted for that the House passed. The Senate’s substituted version of HB 21 lacks equity and provides no additional funding for HISD public school children. Furthermore, the bill unfairly provides facility funding for charter schools for the first time.
I voted against this bill because it put us in a position where supporting retired teachers came at the expense of letting down school children and hurting children in Medicaid. Lt. Gov. Patrick and the Senate chose winners and losers—and HISD school children lost.
Under the direction of Governor Abbott, the Legislature passed two bills aimed at restricting abortion access throughout the state.
HB 214 requires women to pay a separate premium if they want their health plan to cover an elective abortion. There is no exception for rape or incest, meaning women will be forced to buy insurance in the event that a rape occurs and requires an abortion. This is a cruel undue burden that will hurt low-income women the most.
HB 13 requires hospitals, birthing centers, community health centers and freestanding emergency rooms that perform abortions—not just abortion clinics—to submit complication reports to an online database within 72 hours of a complication. Complications from abortions are extremely rare, and there is already a database in place to ensure abortions are safe. This bill acts to intimidate abortion providers and violates privacy rights of doctors and patients, through requiring doctors to report the date of the woman’s last menstrual cycle and her marital status in their report.
These are GOP-led hurdles for women seeking safe abortions under the guise of “pro-life.” I voted against both of these anti-choice bills. Lawmakers must stop playing politics with women’s lives. There’s nothing “pro-life” about restricting access to quality reproductive health care.
Texas’ maternal mortality rate is not only higher than the national average, but is the highest in the developed world, disproportionately impacting Black women.
Under SB 17, the Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force extends through 2023. Formed in 2013, the Task Force studies causes of maternal mortality and makes recommendations to reduce pregnancy related deaths among Texas women. I voted in favor of this important legislation.
Mail-In Voter Suppression
Senate Bill 5 (SB 5) increases penalties for mail-in voter fraud and adds language regarding the preservation of records, illicit use of application for ballot by mail, creating certain notices, and signature verification. The bill also outlines how long precinct election records shall be kept after Election Day.
It’s important to deter mail-in ballot fraud and improve the voting process for all Texans, however simply increasing and creating penalties will do little to keep bad actors from committing these types of offenses. This bill may also have unintended consequences in deterring people from voting by mail.
I met with the Governor’s office this week to discuss issues facing Houston Independent School District (HISD). I will soon be meeting with the Texas Education Agency Commissioner to have the same discussion and will continue to explore options for HISD and schools in our district throughout the year.
HISD is continually making significant improvements to our public schools. Over 90% (251 out of 278) of HISD schools are meeting state standards, which is the highest it has ever been under Texas’ tough new accountability system that was introduced in 2012. However, there are still some schools in District 147 in need of improvement. That is why I am working with HISD to help ensure that Blackshear Elementary School, Mading Elementary School, and Gregory-Lincoln Education Center in District 147 improve and are able to meet state standards this school year.
President Trump’s remarks this week regarding the violence in Charlottesville and the removal of Confederate monuments have divided us—not united us. Displays of white supremacy are never acceptable and should be condemned. Dark times in our history should not be whitewashed and certainly not revered.
I applaud the efforts of Representative Joe Moody (D-El Paso) and Representative Eric Johnson (D-Dallas) to move us forward in removing monuments to the Confederacy on the Texas State Capitol grounds.
In Houston, I led the charge to rename Dowling Street, named for Confederate Major Dick Dowling, to Emancipation Avenue. The original Broadway Street was renamed Dowling Street in 1892 to insult the Black community in Third Ward. By officially renaming the street to Emancipation Avenue on June 19, 2017, we took a step forward. If we can do that in Houston, we can do that across the country.
Former President George H.W. Bush and his son former President George W. Bush released a statement on Charlottesville, demonstrating real leadership. You can read it below.
“America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred in all forms. As we pray for Charlottesville, we are reminded of the fundamental truths recorded by that city’s most prominent citizen in the Declaration of Independence: we are all created equal and endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights. We know these truths to be everlasting because we have seen the decency and greatness of our country.
—George H.W. Bush and President George W. Bush
The special session is finally over and it’s time to say good-bye to Austin. Our song of the week is “Bye Bye Bye” by *NSYNC.