We aren’t going to lie, there was a lot of ugly in the 82nd Legislature, yet we are proud to report that the ACLU of Texas achieved some incredible successes despite the contentious atmosphere of the proceedings. Many of the bills we supported passed, and we were successful in stopping many bills that would have been bad for Texas.
We worked with business leaders, civil liberties organizations, law enforcement, and religious leaders to stop various anti-immigrant proposals. These proposals would have encouraged racial profiling and undermined public safety. Although numerous proposals were offered, and we were backed into a corner when the so-called “Sanctuary Cities” bill was added to the Special Legislative Session, no anti-immigrant bill successfully passed. Phew!
In addition to holding off the anti-immigrant charge at the Legislature, our other major successes came in the area of decriminalizing school discipline. Current policies and laws that require ticketing students for minor disciplinary infractions at school push youth into the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems, interrupting or altogether halting their education. Futures have been ruined by these policies, and with more youth in jail – and out of a job – these policies certainly have not benefited the economy. Additionally, criminal justice responses to minors’ misbehavior are more costly and less effective than other methods of encouraging good behavior at school. Here is an overview of our decriminalizing school discipline successes:
- The Corporal Punishment, Ticketing, and Use of Force Bill (HB 359) addresses three separate school discipline issues. First, it grants parents the power to determine if their children can be subjected to corporal punishment at school. Second, it exempts children in sixth grade and under from being charged with three separate Class C misdemeanors for engaging in childish misbehavior on school property. Third, it ensures that school peace officers report their use of restraints on special education students.
- The Truancy Bill (SB 1489) aims to reduce the number of youth and adults sent into juvenile and adult criminal justice systems for truancy. In 2009 alone there were approximately 120,000 Class C misdemeanor charges filed against Texas students for failure to attend school, a 40 percent increase since 2005.
- The Record Sealing Bill (HB 961) will better allow youth and young adults to move past childhood mistakes by lowering the age at which individuals may have juvenile records sealed and/or restricted.
- The Anti-Bullying Bill (HB 1942) requires school district policies to include a procedure for reporting, investigating, and responding to instances of bullying on their campuses.
Along with the passage of these good school discipline bills, two important criminal justice reforms passed this session.
- The Asset Forfeiture Bill (SB 316) reforms the way that asset forfeiture laws can be used. In the past, asset forfeiture laws were sometimes misused by law enforcement to intimidate individuals (disproportionately African Americans) into relinquishing personal property in an effort to avoid being put in jail.
- The Anti-SLAPP Bill (HB 2973) allows for safeguards against frivolous lawsuits targeting individuals with the purpose of quelling the individual’s free speech rights.
These wins will make a difference in the lives of many Texans, and we are proud to have had such a successful session. But, while we were able to successfully advocate for these bills and stop all of the anti-immigrant proposals, a few bad bills still passed:
- The Voter ID Bill (SB 14) requires proof of identification at polling places, which creates more roadblocks to voting despite the already very low voter turnout rate in Texas. Voters must already show proof of identification to register to vote. A second show of ID isn’t necessary and there’s no evidence of voter fraud in Texas.
- The Sonogram Bill (HB 15) intrudes on the doctor-patient relationship and forces a woman to go through an invasive sonogram procedure prior to undergoing an abortion.
- The Sexting Bill (SB 407), well-meaning but poorly crafted legislation that creates a new crime for youth that send naked images to friends or classmates, a practice that more than 20 percent of youth engage in nationwide. There are better non-criminal ways to address this widespread youthful indiscretion without having to place children before a judge.
Between working to undo these unwise new laws and keeping the momentum going on the school discipline successes, we don’t have much time to rest. There is still a lot to do to protect the civil liberties of all Texans. We assure you we aren’t going anywhere and will keep on fighting for your rights! To follow the work we do, find us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter! And remember, to show your support for the work we do, please vote for us as “Best Activist Organization” in the Austin Chronicle’s Best of Austin contest.