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The 86th Texas legislative session has officially ended, with Governor Greg Abbott signing the last set of bills on his desk into law by the Sunday, June 16 deadline.
This was not your ordinary session with public bickering among the chambers of the legislature and the Governor’s office. The big-ticket debates of the session ended with parties agreeing upon a state budget and school finance reform, and the Speaker of the House, Lieutenant Governor, and Governor each claiming victory on high profile issues they publicly supported.
But that doesn’t mean there weren’t any tense moments for supporters of civil rights and civil liberties in Texas.
The top of the session began with the Lieutenant Governor announcing his 30 priorities which included a section that gave defenders of civil liberties great pause: Life, Liberty and Conservative Texas Values. The Texas Senate rushed some of these bills across to pressure the House to take up social issues that are red meat for the Lieutenant Governor’s base, like abortion.
In some cases, the House folded to the pressure as with Senate Bill 22, which prevents organizations like Planned Parenthood from receiving any funding from local government, even for preventative healthcare services such as breast examinations. Though SB22 did pass, ACLU of Texas supporters fought hard, showing up at protests and sending more than 2,000 messages to their legislators opposing the bill.
Thankfully there were many instances throughout the session where champions of civil rights showed up and showed out to protect not just their own rights, but the rights of all Texans.
A big win this session for Smart Justice reform, and truly for all Texans, was the repeal of the Driver Responsibility Program (DRP). The DRP resulted in over a million people losing their driver’s licenses simply because they could not maintain onerous payments to the program. The legislature not only ended the program but also erased all due payments. The ACLU of Texas worked with a host of excellent partners supporting the elected officials that moved this huge victory through the legislative process, and nearly 1,000 ACLU of Texas supporters emailed their representatives in a show of support to end this program.
Another host of bills seeking to address issues faced particularly by women in prisons and jails passed through both the House and Senate with strong bipartisan support. House Bill 650 was an excellent reform focused on the dignity of women in prisons, requiring trauma screenings for women, granting 72 hours to a new mother with her baby born in custody, and mandating that prisons provide an adequate quantity and quality of feminine hygiene products.
However, it was our litigation and legislative work around voting rights that exemplifies the tenor of the 86th legislative session. While the Governor pushed for acting Secretary of State David Whitley to be approved permanently to the position by the Texas Senate, Whitley simultaneously attempted directing an illegal voter purge.
So we sued to stop the purge, finally settling with the state in April. Mr. Whitley was not confirmed and resigned on the last day of the legislative session. The legislature did not pass any major voting overhauls this session either — a win for voting rights and the thousands of ACLU of TX supporters that contacted their elected officials opposing the legislation.
The ACLU of Texas members and supporters can be proud of the work of this organization moving forward big Smart Justice reforms and stopping other legislation that would have infringed upon the civil liberties of Texans around the state.
We will need all of our members and supporters moving toward the 2021 Texas Legislature and we are already building for our next opportunity to enact critical reforms protecting civil liberties and civil rights. We hope you will join us.
Read more below about how each of our issue areas fared during the 86th Texas Legislature: