2021 Texas Legislature: What Changed for Texans?

The 87th Texas Legislature spent nearly 10 months advancing some of the most extreme new laws in the country. After a tumultuous regular session, Gov. Greg Abbott called three back-to-back special sessions to jam through harmful legislation on culture war issues so that he and his allies could score political points with their base. 

Alongside concerned Texans from all across the state, the ACLU of Texas and our partners fought these dangerous bills every step of the way and helped prevent some from becoming law. In the end, lawmakers only made the state less welcoming, less inclusive, and more aggressive toward Black and Indigenous people, women, immigrants, LGBTQIA+ Texans, people with disabilities, and many other communities. 

Below are 10 ways the lives of Texans will be impacted as a result. 

1. Most Texans are not able to access abortion care.

Senate Bill 8, the near-total ban on abortion that went into effect September 1, restricts access to all abortion care after roughly six weeks of gestation. The law incentivizes bounty hunting by offering a minimum $10,000 reward to anyone who successfully sues someone for violating the law. The ACLU of Texas and our partners filed a lawsuit to stop the law’s implementation, which has made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. For now, abortion is still legal but extremely restricted in Texas. Visit www.aclutx.org/abortion for more information on your rights.

2. It will be harder and scarier to vote, especially for communities of color and voters with disabilities.

Texas is already the hardest state in the country to vote — and Senate Bill 1 will make it even harder. Lawmakers ignored hundreds of hours of testimony from advocates and voters, choosing instead to enact a law that bans drive-thru voting, restricts early voting hours, prevents disabled voters and those with limited English proficiency from receiving needed assistance, expands criminal penalties in the election code, and emboldens partisan poll watchers. The ACLU of Texas and our partners sued the state to block the implementation of SB 1. For now, we expect the law to go into effect on Dec. 1, 2021 while litigation continues.  

3. It will be more difficult for low-income Texans to get out of jail, while wealthy Texans continue to buy their freedom.

Over 60% of people in Texas jails have not been convicted of a crime. Senate Bill 6 will make an unjust system worse by prohibiting certain people from being released from jail without first paying a bondsman or putting up cash. This imposes an absolute bar on release for people who cannot afford bail, while allowing wealthier people to buy their way out of jail while they await trial. 

4. Teachers will face censorship in the classroom and Texas students won’t learn key lessons about racial injustice in school.

House Bill 28 will censor classroom discussions of race and systemic racism throughout the entire curriculum in Texas public schools. This new law will muzzle teachers and inhibit education about the history of white supremacy, the legacy of slavery, and the achievements of people of color. Another bill will prevent students from receiving academic credit for civic engagement. 

5. Your tax dollars will fund the governor’s abusive anti-immigrant agenda.

Enforcing immigration law is a power reserved for the federal government under the U.S. Constitution. But Abbott is pursuing an unconstitutional agenda to increase the state’s resources and power to enforce federal immigration laws in Texas. House Bill 9 will pour a staggering amount of money — over $1.7 billion — into the governor’s border boondoggle. The law will fund unconstitutional activities like border processing centers and a state border wall, which will lead to more racial profiling, over-policing, and the hyper-militarization of border communities.

6. Trans kids will not be able to play school sports on the team that aligns with their gender identity. 

House Bill 25 will effectively ban trans youth from school sports. Dozens of trans kids and their families, as well as their doctors, testified to the harm this bill will cause some of our state’s most vulnerable students. The bill could also lead to genetic testing or genital inspection of any student athlete who does not conform to traditional ideas about gender.

7. The state is getting away with gerrymandering. 

More than 90% of Texas’ population growth over the last decade came from people of color. As a result of this population growth, the state added two congressional seats, but the new congressional map passed by lawmakers does not add any new Black or Latinx opportunity districts. These maps will likely be tied up in litigation for several years. Unless a court grants emergency relief for voters of color, elections that happen while litigation is playing out will be conducted according to the maps approved by the legislature this year.

8. You won’t get financial relief for the 2021 blackout, and if there are future extreme weather blackouts, new regulations on the electric grid remain unfunded.

The electrical blackout in 2021 left approximately 700 Texans dead and 5 million without power. Yet, lawmakers failed to pass House Bill 3460, which would have created a grant program to provide direct financial assistance to Texans affected by the blackout. A Senate bill that would have provided a $350 credit on Texans’ electric bills similarly died without getting a vote in the House. The legislature didn’t pass any laws to help regular Texans impacted by the 2021 blackout, or future ones. 

9. You could face jail time for certain kinds of protest activity.

The murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in 2020 sparked the largest protest movement in U.S. history. When protests against police brutality across the state were met with more police brutality, Texans did not waver in exercising their constitutional right to free speech. Instead of answering the call to reshape policing, lawmakers prioritized bills targeting protest activity. House Bill 9 will require jail time for people who block emergency vehicles or hospital entrances during a protest, without any common-sense provisions to protect protest rights. And House Bill 2366 will increase criminal penalties to the felony level for using fireworks or laser pointers to interfere with official police activity.

10. You will be able to carry a gun without a license.

The U.S. Supreme Court has stated that the Constitution does not confer a “right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” Texas has seen an alarming increase in gun violence, including mass shootings in schools and public places like the hate crime shooting at a Walmart in El Paso in 2019, which killed 22 people and wounded 23 others. Instead of delivering promised legislative action to address gun violence, the legislature passed House Bill 1927, which will allow people to carry handguns in Texas without a concealed handgun license. Polls indicate that 59% of voters oppose unlicensed gun carry. 

As this list demonstrates, state legislators ignored Texans’ pressing needs in 2021 to consolidate political power and wage a culture war with lasting repercussions. Some bills did not pass this year but are likely to come back in future sessions, like a constitutional amendment to expand the bail industry and a bill to pursue the kind of sham election audits trumpeted by the former president. 

We will not forget these attacks on our civil rights and liberties. After all, we the people still hold the power to make change by engaging in all points of our democratic process — from elections to advocacy to education. We encourage all Texans to keep fighting for laws and lawmakers that make our lives and our communities better. You can also act by staying informed. Sign up for our email updates today