By Ruth Ferguson, NDG Editor
The Texas Legislative Black Caucus (TLBC) on June 26 hosted a Town Hall meeting on the campus of the University of North Texas at Dallas. The legislators were invited to share with voters information regarding major legislative changes from the session just completed and items on the agenda for the upcoming Special Session called by Texas Governor Gregg Abbott.
The three legislators in attendance were State Sen. Royce West, State Rep. Helen Giddings and State Rep. Nicole Collier. State Rep. Toni Rose was not able to attend because she was still in Austin following testifying at a deposition regarding a lawsuit related to redistricting. State Rep. Eric Johnson was unavailable.
The audience reached standing room only within the auditorium and others were able to watch via a live feed in an overflow room for other guests. Attendees included current judges, candidates for office in 2018, Dallas City Councilmen Casey Thomas and Tennell Adkins. Other dignitaries included city council members from Cedar Hill, school board trustees from several local districts and City of DeSoto Mayor Curtistene Smith McCowan, the first female mayor of the city.
West pointed to the ability to gain assistance for relatives who take on the responsibility of taking care of a child removed from the home of their parents. When you look at the children in the foster care system, Sen. West stated the population is disproportionally African American and Hispanic.
“The state would rather give compensation to strangers,” West said, instead of giving financial assistance to family members willing to step up and take in the child. Under the current plan, kinship foster parents received a one-time payment of $1,000 with an annual payment of $500. House Bill 4 increased the support to $4,200 annually for a family earning up to $73,800. They will also gain access to other resources to help care for the children.
Senate Bill 203 allows kinship providers to continue receiving support even after they agree to provide a permanent home to children who are not able to be returned to their parents.
The other bill West promoted was an effort to deal with the tensions between the public and law enforcement. Senate Bill 30 (SB30) addresses how citizens, particularly young people, should behave when they are stopped by law enforcement. The state’s drivers license manual will include content, as well as required content shared in classrooms across the state. On the flip side, police academies will include de-escalation training to reduce the possibility of the headline-grabbing shootings seen over the last few years involving unarmed black males.
“We want to begin to define the expectations of citizens and police,” according to West.
Giddings and West were able to work together in their respective chambers to pass a bill which will allow certain public junior colleges the ability to offer a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. The Dallas County Community College District has announced plans to hopefully offer these degrees within the next four years.
Collier pointed out this was one of the most contentious sessions in recent history.
“I have never seen that much disrespect for the process,” Collier stated.
She warns that Hispanics are not the only potential targets of the so-called sanctuary city bill which is now facing a battle in the courts. Dallas, San Antonio, Houston and other cities across the state have filed lawsuits fighting Senate Bill 4 (SB4).
“It is a dangerous piece of legislation,” Collier said, calling it a waste of tax payers dollars
New laws spotlighted:
Collier’s HB 337 is designed to save taxpayers money in the long run. Instead of terminating Medicaid eligibility if a resident is arrested, it will now be suspended instead.
Johnson’s HB 674 limited the ability to suspend children in pre-k through the 2nd grade, with no child under the age of six eligible for suspension except in extreme cases.
In an effort to eliminate debtors prison situation, if someone is unable to pay their traffic fines, they can no longer be jailed. Instead, they have the option of completing community service hours as prescribed by the judge. Each hour completed will be credited at the rate of $10 per hour thanks to SB 1913.
None of the lawmakers were pleased with the last minute changes to the Sandra Bland Law pushed through but described it as a foundation they can build upon.
Special Session Agenda
Collier stated, “No good can come out of the Special Session.” She urged voters to reach out to their lawmakers to make sure their voices are heard in Austin.
According to Giddings, Democrats should not consider a call to her GOP counterparts as a waste of time. She said they respond to anyone who starts off with, “I am in your district.”
Lack of voter engagement is a problem crippling progress according to West, “I don’t blame the Republicans. The reality is they are the majority party.” He points to the fact Texas has 13 million registered voters, yet only 24 percent voted to in the last gubernatorial race.
“(Abbott) had an agenda and told you what it was and now we are surprised,” West said.
The economic growth of the state is at risk with the so-called Bathroom Bill on the docket for the Special Session. According to Eddie Reeves, former chairman of the Board of Directors for the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, the City of Dallas has been warned they will lose more than $20 million in potential revenue, with another $40 million at risk.
Reportedly the city’s sports commission is quietly making overtures to the National Football League to potentially host another Super Bowl game. The league has made it clear, don’t call back if the bill becomes law in Texas.
Johnson tried to help homeowners under attack from rapidly rising property taxes due to gentrification, but special interests helped to kill his bill. When asked by the North Dallas Gazette if there is any potential relief slated for consideration in the special session, lawmakers confirmed there is none.