The 85th biennial Texas Legislature won't convene until January, but pre-filing started this week, and based on what's been filed, we can already tell this session is going to dive right back into the same controversial issues legislators tackled two years ago.
Since pre-filing started Monday legislators have filed more than 200 bills in the Senate and just under 400 bills in the state House of Representatives. The bills run the gamut on the issues, touching on everything from abortion to marijuana to sanctuary cities to the question of the "tampon tax" and whether or not the Bowie knife should be formally declared the official knife of Texas. It's (almost) all interesting stuff, but we've put together five topics you might want to keep a sharp eye on once the legislative session gets rolling in January:
Abortion legislation is back, and they're going for it this time. That's right, there have already been a number of abortion-centric bills filed so far. In HB 87 State Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, proposes modifying abortion procedures and removing the ability of a woman to have an abortion if “the fetus has a severe and irreversible abnormality.” In other words, unless that baby is going to kill the mother, she would have to carry it to term.
On the Senate side there's SB 8, also known as the Pre-Born Protection and Dignity Act by Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Charles Schwertner, and Senators Jane Nelson, Charles Perry, Donna Campbell and Lois Kolkhorst which would legislate against partial-birth abortions and how to handle fetal tissue.
Then there's HB 201 that would mandate disposing of all fetal remains left from abortions via burial. Any health facility that doesn't go along with these rules could see its license suspended or revoked. There's also a bill filed that would require a monthly abortion rate to be submitted and posted to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
In other words, even though the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the state laws on abortion that were some of the strictest ever put on the books, state GOP lawmakers are gearing up to try again.
Trumped-up trickle-down immigration law. Just in case anyone thought all of that immigration debate was just on the national level, the state Legislature is offering up proof that it is not just a national topic. Immigration-related issues are also going to get the spotlight during the upcoming session. State Sen. Charles Perry filed a bill to that would ban "sanctuary city" policies that discourage local law enforcement from digging into the immigration status of people who have been arrested.
Perry filed a similar bill in the last session, but it never got enough support to get out of the Senate. But this time around, Perry says his colleagues simply must pass the legislation. Why? Well, because the people have spoken by electing a Republican president and majorities in Congress, of course. “The American people made it clear that solving our illegal immigration crisis must be a priority,” Perry said in a statement. “That starts by eliminating sanctuary cities, securing our border and enforcing the immigration laws we currently have on the books.”
SB 108 is even more extreme. Under this bit of legislation, if an immigrant is convicted of committing a crime and is in the United States illegally, the person's sentence would get bumped up to the next highest level of punishment. And, rather amusingly, the punishment really gets amped up: The person, if convicted, will get a life sentence. So yeah, lawmakers don't want people here illegally, unless they are convicted criminals. In that case, we keep them forever.
Marijuana laws are up again. Marijuana is also getting looked over again. State Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, has filed two proposals to allow the “possession, cultivation and sale of cannabis.” Senate Joint Resolution 17 would allow the sale of cannabis in the state. SJR 18 would let it be sold for medical use.
Considering that a number of states have gone ahead and legalized pot already, it doesn't seem like such a stretch to think Texas might one day jump into the legalized marijuana game as well. But these things take time and baby steps. If the state passes this law or any of the others loosening things up here in Texas, it'll start to feel even more possible that actually legalizing it outright could happen. Sometime. Maybe.
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Eliminating the "tampon tax." Most women may never have given a thought to the cost of tampons and other feminine hygiene products, but paying for these items and then paying taxes on them really adds up. Last year Cristina Garcia, a California legislator, filed a bill to end the sales tax on tampons and now some state lawmakers in Texas are following her lead.
They have filed a few different bills proposing to either eliminate the sales tax on pads, tampons and other feminine hygiene products, including HB 232 which proposes a tax break for a limited period of time. There's also SB 129 that will make these products entirely tax-free.
Another push for anti-discrimination laws. There have already been a couple of bills filed to guard against discrimination, and they're both pretty cool. HB 225 would prevent any employer from refusing to hire or firing someone based on gender, the way the person expresses their gender or sexual orientation.
There's also a housing discrimination bill in the works, HB 192, that would prevent landlords from refusing to rent to a person based on the person's gender or sexual orientation. Here in Houston, the attempt to pass our own anti-discrimination ordinance failed in a depressingly public way, but if these types of laws end up on the books in the state, they will give people trying to fight these types of discrimination more legal clout in municipalities. It's Texas of course, so the odds don't seem high of the bill passing, but you never know until you try.