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March 26, 2021
Friends, 

We are officially past the halfway point of the 87th Legislative Session, and the pace is escalating quickly. This was an especially busy week that saw House Democrats on the frontlines of some of the biggest issues facing our state and nation, and I simply could not be more proud of our caucus.  

The week started with a hearing on a top priority House Democratic bill, HB 133 by HDC First Vice-Chair Toni Rose. HB 133 would extend Medicaid coverage to new mothers for 12 months post-delivery, as opposed to the current 60 days of coverage. This bill is key as we work to reduce Texas’ abysmal uninsured numbers and cut our shameful maternal mortality rate. Thank you, Rep. Rose, for fighting for this common-sense policy.  

On Thursday, the dean of the HDC, Chair Senfronia Thompson, presented HB 88 — also known as the George Floyd Act —in the House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety. We all owe Chair Thompson and the Texas Legislative Black Caucus (TLBC) a debt of gratitude for championing this landmark legislation that will bring long-overdue changes to our state’s criminal justice system. The reason for HB 88 is simple — justice in this country is supposed to be color-blind, but our justice system falls far short of that ideal for too many Americans.

I know many of us listened to much of the six hours of heart-wrenching testimony, nearly all of which supported the bill. Additionally, several of us testified before the committee in support of HB 88. This bill is a top priority for Texas House Democrats, and we will fight together under Ms. T’s leadership to get it to the governor’s desk by the end of session. 

Of course, free and fair access to the ballot box, which is the foundation of our democracy, should also be color-blind. Unfortunately, Republicans across the country — including in Texas — have embarked on a coordinated, nationwide strategy to enact new laws that suppress the votes of Americans of color.  Yesterday, the House Committee on Elections was prepared to hear HB 6 by Chair Briscoe Cain, which, together with SB 7, represent some of the most regressive, anti-voter bills our state has ever seen.  

The Democratic Members of the Elections Committee came out strong with pointed questions that went largely unanswered. Next, Vice Chair Jessica González, acting as chair, recognized TLBC Chair Nicole Collier to ask a question of the author. This is a well-established practice in the Texas House, and a particularly important one for this bill. The committee has no Black lawmakers appointed to it, and Chair Collier’s presence provided representation for a community that has been intentionally disenfranchised and discriminated against in Texas elections, from the Jim Crow era to last decade’s GOP redistricting and voter ID schemes. 

Chair Cain refused to let Chair Collier participate, leading to a procedural mistake that meant the meeting was done for the day and HB 6 would need to be heard at a later date. Republicans know these bills are solutions in search of problems and that they will have a disproportionate impact on our communities of color. That’s really nothing new. But I am still shocked they would oppose allowing Chair Collier to participate and denied her a long-standing courtesy in the Texas House. Despite this meltdown, I am so thankful for the leadership showed by Reps. González and Collier and the leadership of the other Democrats on the committee: Reps. Michelle Beckley, John Bucy and Art Fierro. 

Finally, our Democratic Members on the State Affairs and Homeland Security & Public Safety Committees were up until early Friday morning with marathon hearings, fighting against state overreach into matters of local control and permit-less carry legislation that will only worsen the gun violence crisis in our state. I’d also like to recognize Rep. Lina Ortega, who serves as our HDC treasurer, for her impassioned layout of HB 127, which bans the open carry of long guns. Rep. Ortega fought hard for El Paso, and for all Texans, with this legislation that would help prevent tragedies like 2019’s mass shooting from happening again.

My sincere thanks to all these Members and their staffs for putting in long hours this week to fight on behalf of our state. It’s all but certain these tough fights are only just beginning, but when House Democrats fight hard like we did this week, our state gets better for every Texan.

Sincerely,

 
Rep. Chris Turner
Chair
Texas House Democratic Caucus
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