Welcome to the 88th Texas Legislative Session! As Fund Texas Choice’s new Public Policy and Communications Associate, I’m here to help navigate and de-mystify the legislative process as we find out what our lawmakers have in store for us.
What is a legislative session?
Every other year, our state elected officials meet from January-May to create and amend state laws. If you’re wondering how our state lawmakers do this, I got you!
Elected officials will start “introducing” or filing bills in the first two months of a legislative year. Each bill will be referred to a committee; committees hear bills related to a specific subject area, such as Public Health or Education. In general, committees will begin to hear bills in March. Each committee has to decide whether to let the bill move forward or not. Once a bill passes out of committee, it will be heard on the House or Senate floor. If a bill is passed on the floor, it will move on to the other chamber (either from the House to the Senate or from the Senate to the House) to go through the same process again. Legislators can pass bills into law until May 31, when the legislature will officially adjourn.
What are we watching?
There are several bills we are watching already! This year, lawmakers pre-filed (meaning filed before the session even started) 921 bills, over 400 more than in each of the last three previous sessions. We are already tracking a growing number of bills that would impact abortion access, maternal health, and health care for trans youth. In total, 6,137 bills were filed in the House and 2,992 bills were filed in the Senate, for a total of 9,129 opportunities for legislators to impact the lives and rights of people in Texas.
Important bills to watch this year (SB 378/HB 1350, SB 404/HB 1732, SB 648, HB 2690): legislators have already filed several bills that would restrict prosecutors’ abilities to decline to prosecute violations of the law. Prosecutors, or district attorneys (DAs), are locally-elected officials; they have always had a tool known as prosecutorial discretion, which allows them to choose the crimes they deem as priority to prosecute. This tool has historically been used to uphold white supremacy, as prosecutors have declined to prosecute police misconduct and wage theft or tax violations by big businesses and the ultra-wealthy. However, prosecutors in certain cities have recently stated that they would refuse to enforce abortion bans or anti-trans policies. SB 378/HB 1350, SB 404/HB 1732, and SB 648 have all been filed in response to these progressive prosecutors. These bills would allow for the removal of DAs who choose not to prosecute any violation of any state law, including voting restrictions, immigration laws, marijuana offenses, or other offenses that harm marginalized communities, especially Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color.
SB 42 has also been filed to prevent local elected officials from using their resources to help Texans seeking abortions. This bill would prohibit local governments, such as cities and municipalities, from providing logistical support for abortion. In 2019, after the state voted to prohibit local governments from funding abortion providers, Austin became the first city in the nation to allow city dollars to support abortion work through practical support. It was an unprecedented, yet welcomed move, which has helped numerous pregnant people in Travis County receive the support they deserve. Should this bill pass, other cities who are planning on supporting pregnant Texans would not be able to provide support to their own communities, the way Austin has done.
Despite the fact that abortion is banned in Texas, lawmakers continue to focus their efforts on restricting access to health care. While Texas’ current abortion bans target physicians or the people who aid abortion seekers, rather than pregnant people, HB 2709 would criminalize pregnant people and threaten people experiencing pregnancy loss with murder charges. HB 2690 would criminalize funding abortions that occur out of state, prohibit abortion funds from fundraising, prohibit the sharing of online information about medication abortion, and allow abortion funds to be prosecuted for organized crime for sharing information about how to procure an abortion. And SB 300 would prohibit certain providers from distributing emergency contraception, even though emergency contraception is unequivocally not a method of abortion care.
Legislators have also filed a slew of anti-trans bills that target health care providers and parents of trans children. These bills use a variety of mechanisms to prevent gender-affirming care, from withholding liability insurance from providers to the criminalization of parents. Gender-affirming care is considered best-practice medical care, and often involves non-permanent methods of allowing young people to express their gender identity, such as puberty blockers or hormone therapy.
How can people participate?
People can find out who represents them by typing their address into the Texas Legislature Online website. People can contact their representatives via phone or e-mail to talk about specific legislation. People can also connect to the Capitol Wi-Fi to register their position on House or Senate bills. People can also submit written or oral testimony by appearing in person at the Capitol on the morning bills are scheduled to be heard in committee. If you have questions or are curious about getting involved, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
How can people stay informed?
People can also create an account on the Texas Legislature Online website and add specific bills to their alert list to receive an email alert any time any action is taken on that bill.
People can also choose to create alerts based on certain subjects by going to My TLO → Subjects and adding the subjects of their choosing to their alert list. People can also follow organizations that do policy work on the issues they care about – their Instagram handles are listed below! Feel free to let us know about the orgs you follow, and we can update them here, too!