Texas Black Leaders discuss 2021 legislative session

by | Jun 16, 2021 | Policy, Texas Legislature

The NAACP Houston Branch hosted a crucial conversation with the community at the Buffalo Soldiers Museum last week to discuss how the latest bills in the Texas legislative session will impact the Black community. 

Texas legislators, community organizers, and pastors all gathered to discuss five specific bills: SB 1831 No Trafficking Zone, HB 88 the George Floyd Bill, HB 1927 Permitless Carry, HB 3979 Critical Race Theory, and the infamous SB 7 voter suppression bill. 

At the beginning of the conversation, Rep. Ron Reynold said this was the worst legislative session in his six terms at the Texas House. 

“It is so critical that we continue to speak truth to power,” Reynolds said. “It is so crucial that we stay together, because there are so many people that want to divide us,” Reynolds said. 

All organizers, pastors, and lawmakers said they wanted the Black community to learn more information about these bills and why they are important. 

SB 1831 addresses and punishes sex traffickers who recruit from public school grounds. 

This bill would require schools to post warning signs as well as penalize the trafficking of persons and the online solicitation of a minor. 

According to Rep. Senfronia Thompson, black and brown children are being recruited and trafficked the most from public schools.

“There is not a black mother who has children or a brown mother who has children who don’t worry about their children getting home safely no matter what age they are because we recognize the system that we live under,” Thompson said. 

Rep. Thierry Shawn echoed the importance of SB 1831 and said human trafficking is also a criminal justice issue that is directly affecting the Black community. Shawn said she plans on addressing this issue in a bill next session. 

“Black and brown children as young as ten or 11 years old who are being sold into sex slavery can be legally arrested and put in jail when they are the victim,” Shawn said. “We don’t realize that our community and our children are often targeted, especially kids who come out of foster care.”

HB 88 or the George Floyd Bill, authored by Thompson and Sen. Royce West was left pending in committee. 

This bill addresses police reform including removing qualified immunity, banning chokeholds, and addressing the use of excessive force. The bill states that officers are also required to intervene if they believe another officer is using excessive force and provide aid to a suspect when necessary.

Under the bill, Texas Southern University, law enforcement associations, agencies, and community organizers are all required to collaborate and publish a written model on how officers are supposed to issue citations on misdemeanor offenses. 

Legislators also made sure to include a progressive disciplinary matrix which requires law enforcement agencies to keep a record on each officer. This helps hinder police officers from moving from one municipality to another. 

“If a police officer did something wrong it goes on his record and stays on his record,” Thompson said. “People ought to know the kind of person that they are hiring.”

Although the bill didn’t pass this session, West said he will keep fighting till it passes. 

“No bill passed legislation with George Floyd’s name on it,” West said.  

Floyd was a Houston native murdered by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in 2020. Chauvin was convicted of Floyd’s murder in April. After Floyd’s death, protests sparked across the country with protestors calling for justice and reform.

A criminal justice bill that did pass in the House and Senate was HB 929 or Bo’s law.  HB 929, also known as the Botham Jean Act, requires officers to turn on their body cameras while conducting an investigation.

Rep. Carl Sherman, author of the bill, said this bill was made in honor of the late Botham Jean who was killed in his own home by former off-duty Dallas police officer Amber Guyger. 

Rep. Jasmine Crockett also fought for police reform by addressing the police department’s use of no-knock warrants on HB 1272

“We weren’t disallowing law enforcement from going in, but we do feel there should be a higher standard when you’re going into someone’s home because the Constitution requires it,” Crockett said. 

Another bill passed by Texas Republicans this session was HB 1972. The new legislation will allow Texans to buy a firearm without needing a license or permit to carry. 

Rep. Jarvis Johnson said HB 1927 is a dumb and dangerous bill that even some Texas police departments were against. 

“In the state of Texas there were 16 alleged counts of voter fraud and we passed the most oppressive voting bill this country has ever seen,” Johnson said. “There were 3,600 deaths alone last year by guns and now we want any and everyone to carry a gun.”

Johnson called out Texas Republicans for passing bills that only appeal to their base and not all Texans. He also stated the difference between how white and black people are treated regarding the 2nd amendment. 

“We know as a Black community if I walk around with a gun and into any building in this state we know that’s a recipe for disaster,” Johnson said. 

Another bill pushed by the Texas Republican legislature was HB 3979. This bill will limit educators from teaching specific topics and issues in America’s dark and racist past. 

Many educators in Texas and across the country have spoken against this bill since it first was introduced in March. 

Lastly, the conversation ended with discussing Texas Democratic lawmakers walking out during session, breaking quorum and successfully killing voter suppression bill SB 7

“We must look at the fact that coming back to a special session we are going to need everybody in the state of Texas and especially in this room to make sure SB 7 does not become law,” Rep. Gervin Hawkins-Barbara said. 

Gary Bledsoe, President of the Texas NAACP, thanked the Texas Legislative Black Caucus for breaking the quorum.  

“These bills were strategically and wickedly designed to ensure we would perpetuatually be a minority status and not share power in this state,” Bledsoe said. 

The Texas Democratic legislature met with Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday to discuss passing federal legislation to override voter suppression bills in Republican states. Earlier this month, Texas Democrats also called on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and For the People Act. 

The lawmakers in attendance included Rep. Chris Turner, Chair of the Texas House Democratic Caucus, Rep. Nicole Collier, chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, Rep. Rafael Anchia, chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, Rep. Jessica Gonzalez, Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, Rep. Senfronia Thompson, Rep. Carol Alvarado, Sen. Beverly Powell, and Sen. Royce West.

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Kennedy is a recent graduate of the University of St.Thomas in Houston where she served as Editor-in-Chief of the Celt Independent. Kennedy brings her experience of writing about social justice issues to the Texas Signal where she serves as our Political Reporter. She does everything from covering crime beats, Texas politics, and community activism. Kennedy is a passionate reporter, avid reader, coffee enthusiast, and loves to travel.

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