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Texas lawmakers passed too many bills under the radar

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All the uproar over Texas Republicans’ failed attempt to push through new voting restrictions in the final days of the 2021 state legislative session was all an Austin-viewer could talk through Memorial Day weekend. But the high-profile Scotty of Senate Bill 7 at the hands of Texas Democrats, who walked out of the job in protest, oversaw a lot of bills the Legislature actually approved in the final weeks of making Austin law (before an impending special session). managed. ie).

Joining conservative bills banning abortion after six weeks and allowing handguns that were passed weeks earlier, Republican lawmakers in the State House and Senate have raised several other bills on red-meat, right-wing priorities during the final week of the session. approved.

Two of those bills would make it harder for Texas cities to cut local law enforcement budgets or to reallocate money from police to other city services. One of them, the House Bill 1900, freezes property tax revenue for cities with more than 250,000 people who discredit their police forces. It prohibits those cities from adding adjoining areas for a refund after ten years, and allows the state to withhold those cities’ sales taxes to a special Texas Department of Public Safety fund “to protect residents.” to pay the cost of state resources used for” a disgraced municipality. “

The other police funding bill, Senate Bill 23, would freeze the property tax revenue of counties with more than one million residents if those county governments reduce law enforcement budgets without obtaining approval from county voters.

Governor Greg Abbott signed those two bills into law on Tuesday, thanking state lawmakers who backed him “to ensure Texas remains a law-and-order state.”

“Efforts to defame the police are downright dangerous, and these laws will prevent cities from making this reckless decision,” Abbott said during the bill’s signing ceremony.

Abbott announced back in February that preventing Texas cities from shielding police was one of his “emergency items” for the session. While the Austin City Council’s decision to transfer some police funding to other agencies in late 2020 sent blue-backing Republicans into a frenzy, other major Texas cities such as Houston and Dallas have never tried to follow Austin’s lead. The plan did not work, and state Democrats denied that their party was pushing for any sort of collective police defense.

Other pieces of right-wing legislation whose recent passage has been lost in shuffle include a bill banning any government official from closing places of worship during future disasters (including deadly pandemics) and a “trigger-law”. which would immediately ban abortion. In Texas if the US Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade.

And while many conservative bills named Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick as their top priorities, the House eventually died down—such as those targeting transgender girls who want to play girls. sport and another that would have banned social media companies from blocking Texans for right-wing views – he succeeded in moving through Senate Bill 4, which requires any supporters sport The team in Texas that receives funding from the state to play the national anthem before the Games.

Other bills passed by the Republican majority of the legislature in the House and Senate cut some outdated alcohol rules and expanded health benefits for poor moms and medical marijuana patients, just not to the extent many people expected. was.

Take House Bill 1518, which would get rid of Texas’ restrictions on buying beer and wine before noon on Sunday. On its face, it’s sure to thrill any Texan who accidentally tried to throw away a six-pack or bottle of Chardonnay with their Sunday morning grocery run. But ultra-early birds will still be barred from making those purchases, as the bill will still prohibit the sale of alcohol before 10 a.m. on Lord’s Day.

Then there’s House Bill 133, a bipartisan-backed law to expand health coverage after birth to low-income Texas mothers through Medicaid. Currently, pregnancy-related medical costs for Texas moms on Medicaid are covered for two months after giving birth to a baby, but the final version of HB 133 expands that coverage to a full six months after pregnancy.

It’s a significant detail, but the House’s original version of the bill — which was supported by several Republicans, including Speaker Dade Phelan — would have extended Medicaid benefits after birth to the last 12 months. The state Senate thought of an extension that would be potentially too costly in the long run, so the six-month settlement was moved to two chambers.

The Legislature also expanded the state’s medical marijuana program, albeit not as significantly as marijuana advocates wanted. Passed by both the House and Senate last week, House Bill 1535 would let Texans for post-traumatic stress disorder and cancer use legal marijuana as prescribed by a doctor if signed into law.

Jacques Finkel, executive director of the Texas branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, was pleased to see that the legislature allowed those two groups to use marijuana to treat their conditions, but was disappointed that the Senate approved the House. refused to accept the bill. Including people with chronic pain who might otherwise need opium for their conditions, as another group who may use legal weed.

She was even less thrilled that instead of increasing the legally permitted concentration of THC (the psychoactive chemical in marijuana) in Texan medical pot from 0.5 percent to 5 percent, the Senate only allowed increasing THC concentration. Gave 1 percent.

“While these are hugely significant changes, Texas NORML is saddened by the removal of such integral elements from the law by the Senate,” Finkel said in a statement, adding to chronic pain as a condition of merit, the ability to review new boards. Will approve a new THC cap of 5 percent along with eligibility conditions.

Legge also passed two largely unheard bills covering rural internet service and Gulf Coast hurricane preparedness, both of which found widespread bipartisan support just before the end of the session. House Bill 5 will create a new state office to increase access to broadband Internet in under-served corners of Texas and entice companies to build broadband infrastructure with low-interest loans and grants.

Senate Bill 1160 would create the Gulf Coast Protection District, a new government body covering coastal counties to raise funds for the “Ike Dyke” storm surge barrier through bonds, taxes and other fees (with voter approval). will be able to. That new entity will be able to manage any federal funds that Congress may provide for the project in a future infrastructure spending bill, which is expected to coincide with the publication of a report on the project by the Army Corps of Engineers. should help speed up the hurricane defense effort. month.

Abbott has already vowed to call the Legislature back to the city at an unspecified future date. The governor gets to call the shots about what work lawmakers can do in an overtime special session, and he has already named “election integrity” and bail bond reform as his two top priorities. .

He may also throw in more common-sense initiatives that could garner bipartisan support, such as broadband access and the Ike Dyke management bill, but given how furious Abbott is that Democrats killed the GOP voting bill, progressives and moderates should Maybe their hopes should not be met.

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