Texas lawmakers: Why you gotta be so cruel?

A ‘Bans Off Our Bodies’ protest at the Texas State Capitol in Austin, Sept. 1.

In September, 666 laws passed by Texas lawmakers went into effect — laws that are so repressive and restrictive that it’s mind-boggling.

Some background on this writer

I came to Texas from California in January 2020 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and months before the U.S. presidential election. I needed proof of residency to check books out of the local library and a Texas ID to register to vote. I made an appointment online at the Texas Department of Public Safety and Health for a driver’s license and contacted the registrar of voters to find out how to register to vote.

When I called the registrar of voters, I was told to fill out the application online, print, sign and mail it directly to the county’s election office. I did not have a printer, so I asked if the application could be sent to me via postal mail. I received the application, signed it and returned it using the address listed. My voter registration card did not arrive until six months later, in September 2020.

I searched online for a summary of all the candidates and proposals on the ballot and did not find anything. I called the number on the registration card to ask when I would be receiving my sample ballot. I was told that the ballots for individual counties are normally posted about 3 to 4 weeks before the election. I said that in San Diego, registered voters get a sample ballot summarizing all the candidates and issues. She replied, “Wow, that may be why California has such a good voter turnout.”

I asked for a mail-in ballot and was told that it would require a “Ballot by Mail” application. Turned out that I did not qualify for a mail-in ballot. Using my voter registration number, I was able to gain online access to a sample ballot and my assigned polling place about three weeks before the election.

The restrictive laws

I wanted to share that story before discussing the restrictive laws passed in Texas. 

SB 8, “The Heartbeat Law,” bans abortion after five-and-a-half to six weeks of pregnancy, before most women are aware that they are pregnant. The law threatens any individual or entity who “knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets,” including paying for or reimbursing the costs of an abortion through insurance or otherwise, with a civil lawsuit. Any civilian who sues that person will be awarded $10,000 plus court costs and attorney fees.

HB 1925 prohibits camping in public places by homeless individuals, making it a criminal offense that carries a fine of up to $500, and threatens cities that discourage enforcing the law with legal action from the state attorney general and potentially loss of state grant money.

HB 1927, “Constitutional Carry,” grants anyone age 21 or older who legally owns a handgun the right to carry that handgun in public without a license or training. There are 16 additional laws related to possessing a gun, including laws stating how to store and carry it, and places where it is prohibited. People must read the laws closely before openly carrying a gun, especially if you are Black, Brown, or poor and white, because the consequences could be fatal if you carry a gun illegally.

‘Criminal justice’

HB 1900 relates to cities of 250,000 or more that adopt budgets that defund or reduce police budgets. Those cities are threatened financially with reductions in sales tax revenues and increased property taxes.

HB 929, “The Botham Jean Act,” requires that a police officer’s body-worn camera remain activated for the entirety of any investigation. A close look at the law reveals, however, that an “officer can activate a camera or stop a recording currently in progress, for privacy in certain situations and at certain locations.” It is not a crime to turn it off.

Will this bill prevent police from maliciously or recklessly entering someone’s home and killing them, as in the cases of Botham Jean, Atatiana Jefferson and Breonna Taylor?

Similarly, SB 69 reads, ‘A peace officer may not intentionally use a choke hold, carotid artery hold, or similar neck restraint in searching or arresting a person unless the restraint is necessary to prevent serious bodily injury to or the death of the officer or another person.” Isn’t that what they always claim?

People are demanding that the police stop the chokehold and all forms of neck restraints, disarm the police and stop brutalizing people. People, particularly in communities of color, are demanding community control over the police.

Education, history and social studies

HB 2497, “The Texas 1836 Project,” funds an advisory committee established to “promote patriotic education and increase awareness of the Texas values that continue to stimulate boundless prosperity across the state.” The true Texas 1836 history centers on the year Texas seceded from Mexico, led by settlers from the United States who legalized slavery and suppressed the Indigenous population from gaining independence. Mexico had officially abolished slavery in Texas in 1830, and restoring slavery in Texas was the major cause of secession.

The Texas 1836 Project contradicts HB 3979, which states: “For any social studies course in the required curriculum, a teacher may not be compelled to discuss a particular current event or widely debated and currently controversial issue of public policy or social affairs.”

The 1836 law includes the development and implementation of the Gubernatorial 1836 Award to recognize student knowledge of “Texas Independence,” in contrast to HB 3979, which instructs school districts, open enrollment charter schools and teachers not to require, make part of a course, or award students who participate in civic or political activities.

SB 4, “The Star Spangled Banner Protection Act,” requires that professional sports teams that require a financial commitment from the state of Texas or any government entity must have a written agreement that the team will play the national anthem at the beginning of each team sporting event. A default in this agreement threatens the team with debarment from contracting with the state. 

In summary

Is the purpose of the government to make people’s lives more miserable? Less secure? There are some who claim this is a Republican ploy, but we say this is capitalism at its worst.

SB 8 states in the text that Texas has compelling interests in protecting the health of women and the life of the unborn child; for women to make an informed choice about whether to continue pregnancy. Yet, aside from taking away programs women need to make that informed choice, Texas lawmakers refused to expand Medicaid health coverage at no cost to the state, a measure supported by 70% of Texas residents. 

Texas has over 29 million people; 154,000 are in prison; 199 on death row. Some 185 death-row inmates have been exonerated nationally, 16 in Texas. 

Former Texas death-row inmate Anthony Graves, who spent more than 18 years in prison before he was exonerated in 2010, said in an interview with the Texas Tribune: “I want to see the death penalty abolished. … The state was going to murder me for something I didn’t do. It would be naïve to think that I was the only one down there like that.”

Texas, one of only two states that put people to death in 2020 during the pandemic, has already had two executions in 2021 and five more pending.

In this period of uncertainty, everyone should have a primary care doctor or clinic to help decide when and where to get tested, how long to stay in isolation if positive, whether it is safe to get vaccinated, wear a mask or both, instead of having to search for answers on social media.

Free medical care and shelter for all, family planning programs, affordable housing, livable wages, guaranteed income, healthy food, fresh air and a plan for sustainable safe living conditions under growing climate change: These issues should be at the top of any new laws or proposals being introduced or discussed in Texas and nationwide.

What will it take to build a better world for everyone? What kind of world will that be? The world that a growing number of the billions of poor and working-class people worldwide want to see is a socialist one.

It’s up to us to fight for a better world — a world where the needs of humanity are the priority to us and the lawmakers that we choose to govern — a socialist world.