The 86th Legislative Session in Review

by Kathryn Freeman on July 19, 2019 in CLC

The 86th Legislative Session has ended and most lawmakers have returned home. Here is a recap of some of their legislative accomplishments and failures of key legislation related to the 2018-2019 CLC legislative priorities. 

Human Dignity and Poverty

Criminal Justice  

  • Support efforts to curb fees and limit court debt to percentage of a person’s income. 

  • Support efforts to assist the transition of ex-offenders back into society through the development and expansion of re-entry programs.  

  • Support efforts to move 17-year-olds into the juvenile justice system where they have greater access to rehabilitative services.  

  • Support efforts of Smart on Crime. 

This legislative session several important criminal justice reform bills were passed. While the number of women incarcerated in Texas has increased by almost 1,000 percent since 1980, the access and quality of programming available to incarcerated women is still limited when compared to what is available to incarcerated men. This session several important bills were passed to address this discrepancy. HB 650 prohibits the shackling of pregnant women at any point during pregnancy, improves training for correction officers related to pregnant women, ensures access to feminine hygiene products, and authorizes a study of visitation policies to examine their effectiveness in maintaining parental engagement. HB 3227 requires TDCJ to adopt and implement policies that will improve incarcerated women’s access to educational, vocational, substance abuse treatment, rehabilitation, life-skills training, and pre-release programs. 

Currently, Texas law requires an occupational license for 25 percent of professions, creating a barrier to employment for the 40 percent of Texans with an arrest or conviction record.  HB 1342 improves access to employment for persons with criminal convictions. This bill prohibits licensing authorities from revoking, suspending, or denying a license when a person’s criminal history does not directly relate to the occupation and requires authorities to consider whether the crime relates to the duties and responsibilities of the occupational license being sought.

Texas Human Life  

  • Oppose abortion.  

  • Support the elimination of all government funding for abortion providers. 

  • Support increased funding to abortion alternatives for expectant mothers.  

  • Support efforts to expand access to prenatal care and health services up to a year after birth for low-income mothers.  

  • Support efforts to expand access to quality, affordable healthcare for all Texans.  

  • Support efforts to reduce racial disparity and the effects of systemic racism in the state’s criminal justice, child welfare, mental health, education, and health systems.

Several significant pro-life bills passed this session. HB 16, the Born Alive Infant Protection Act puts teeth into current state law requiring physicians to provide medical care to an infant born after a failed abortion. HB 16 gives the attorney general the authority to investigate complaints, charge those who violate the act with a felony, and collect civil penalties of at least $100,000. SB 22 would prevent state and local government entities from contracting for any services for entities that provide abortions. For example, the City of Austin had been renting a city building to the local Planned Parenthood for a $1 a year. This sort of contract would be prevented by SB 22. HB 2350, or the TriggerBan Bill, failed to pass; it would have automatically and completely banned abortion in Texas if the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade.

In 2012, the Texas Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force found that black women were 2.3 times more likely to die from complications of childbirth and that 80 percent of maternal deaths are preventable. HB 1111 passed as an amendment to SB 748. This bill establishes a pregnancy medical home pilot to coordinate maternity care for women at higher risk for poor pregnancy, birth, or postpartum outcomes. SB 750 requires HHSC to evaluate and develop a postpartum care package for new mothers enrolled in Healthy Texas Women program and create strategies to ensure the successful transition of new mothers from Medicaid to Healthy Texas Women, the state's health program for low-income women. Also, the task force found that the majority of maternal deaths occurred more than 60 days postpartum. HB 744 failed to pass but would have extended the time eligible women are covered by Medicaid from 60 days after childbirth to 12 months. 

Hunger and Poverty  

  • Support efforts to strengthen programs, including SNAP, that prevent hunger among high-need populations, including children, the homeless, the elderly, and those that live in rural areas. 

Supplemental Assistance for Need Families (SNAP) is the largest anti-hunger program in Texas. Seventy-six percent of SNAP benefits go toward families with children and 82 percent of recipient households include one working adult. HB 1483 creates a pilot program for families utilizing government benefits such as TANF or SNAP to work towards self-sufficiency while receiving comprehensive case management from a local nonprofit. Currently, the strict income limits on certain government benefit programs mean a family may be kicked off SNAP before it is truly able to provide meals for the family. This bill arose out of the work of many faith-based nonprofit organizations with financially fragile families. This pilot program allows families that agree to a comprehensive case management program similar to the ones offered by Buckner International additional time to work toward self-sufficiency before losing benefits with the hope of ensuring their long term success, rather than repeated cycling on/off government assistance. 

The elderly and individuals with disabilities may be eligible to receive meals through certain government programs but accessing these services can be difficult for those in rural areas. HB 3236 did not pass this session, but it would have required the Health and Human Services Commission to create a pilot program for the use of commercial home-delivery meal services for the elderly and those with disabilities in underserved areas. 

Gambling Expansion  

  • Oppose legislation for the introduction and expansion of predatory gambling enterprises including casinos, “racinos,” Internet gambling, daily fantasy sports, slot machine-like devices, sweepstakes machines, and instant racing machines.  

  • Support legislation to abolish the Texas Lottery Commission.  

  • Support legislation to enhance regulation, prosecution, and penalties for illegal game rooms that operate eight-liners, sweepstake machines, or other illegal gambling activities.

The legalization of daily fantasy sports was the big gambling issue this session. HB 2303 failed to pass, but it would have expanded gambling by legalizing daily fantasy sports. Daily fantasy sports unlike more traditional fantasy sports games among friends or co-workers tracks player performances in single games on a weekly basis and a portion of the fees collected for participating are paid to Internet sites like FanDuel or DraftKings. According to current law, making a bet on “the partial or final result of a game or contest or on the performance of a participant in a game or contest” is a criminal offense. Texas statute defines a bet as “an agreement to win or lose something of value solely or partially by chance.” In 2016, the Texas Attorney General ruled that while traditional fantasy sports leagues are legal under Texas law, daily fantasy sports constituted an expansion of gambling. Traditional fantasy sports leagues continue to be legal. 

Predatory Lending  

  • Support legislation to protect the right of local municipalities to enact ordinances stronger than state consumer protections.  

  • Support legislation to reduce the cost of small-dollar lending in Texas. 

Payday lenders attempted through several bills and legislative maneuvers to preempt the payday and auto-title lending ordinances that have been passed in over 40 Texas cities. Each of those attempts were thwarted and the ordinances remain intact. 

The Office of Consumer Credit Consumer, among other things, regulates credit access businesses and investigates consumer complaints. HB 1442 reauthorized this important commission to continue its important work through 2031. It also extends OCCC’s regulatory authority to online loan businesses that serve Texans thereby ensuring they are held to the same standards as storefront lenders. 

Religious Liberty  

  • Support efforts to protect the rights of churches and religious nonprofits to make employment decisions, facility-use determinations, and statements consistent with their religious convictions and beliefs.  

  • Support efforts by student groups at public higher education institutions to form groups to advocate ideas and require leaders of those groups to adhere to those ideas.  

  • Support efforts to preserve the autonomy of private religious schools by rejecting public funds and regulatory efforts. 

SB 1978 prevents government entities from taking adverse action against a business or persons for their charitable donations or memberships in religious organizations. The bill does not apply to government contractors acting within the scope of their government contracts, medical professionals providing medically necessary care, or government officials acting in the scope of their employment. 

HB 2496 prevents municipalities from designating property owned by religious organizations as historic landmarks without organizational approval. Older congregations wishing to modify or sell their buildings were prevented from doing so because of a historic landmark designation, this bill requires municipalities to respect facility use designations made by church leaders. 

Children and Families

  • Support increased state funding for high-quality, full-day pre-kindergarten and early education options for all Texas children, particularly for at-risk, low-income families. 

  • Support efforts to ensure an adequate & equitable funding of public education. 

  • Oppose efforts to reduce access to Texas higher education institutions for children who are long-term residents of Texas, but not yet US citizens or legal residents. 

The Legislature took historic steps to improve the public school finance system. HB 3 injects $6 billion into Texas public schools for English-language learners in dual language programs, certain special education programs, full-day pre-kindergarten, teacher pay raises, and increased per-student funding for school districts with high concentrations of poverty. HB 3 also included $5 billion to help reduce local school property taxes. The CLC is proud to support HB 3 and celebrates this historic investment in the future of Texas. 

  • Support funding for the Department of Child and Family Protective Services to help retain and attract caseworkers and evidenced-based prevention and intervention programs.  

  • Support efforts to improve outcomes for foster care youth while under state supervision, support efforts to move youth to permanency and increase supports for children aging out of state care.

Foster care did not receive the same level of legislative attention as it did in the previous session, when the Legislature overhauled the Department of Child and Family Protective Services. Despite this lack of focused attention, smaller but important reforms were still made. 

HB 123 makes it easier for teens in foster care or who are experiencing homelessness to get their birth certificates with no fee in order to obtain their no-fee driver’s license or state ID. We heard from several ministry partners that teens who wish to get jobs need both an ID and birth certificate, but lack the resources to obtain said documents. This bill makes it easier for those working with this at-risk population to aid them in achieving self-sufficiency. 

HB 811 requires public schools to take into consideration whether a child is experiencing homelessness or in foster care before taking disciplinary action. For example, out-of-school suspensions are not helpful or appropriate for children in foster care or who are homeless. 

Lastly, SB 355 requires the Department of Child and Family Protective Services to develop a plan for implementing the new prevention programs required by the federal Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA). FFPSA, passed in 2018, changes federal funding for state child welfare programs by allowing states to use funds to keep children with their parents while receiving services and limits the use of federal funds for group homes or congregate care facilities. SB 355 will help Texas implement the requirements of FFPSA. 

The Stranger Among Us 

  • Support efforts to protect and care for victims of human trafficking, including funding for new and existing victims’ service programs and end prosecution for non-violent crimes victims committed while trafficked.  

  • Support efforts to ensure prosecution and penalties for sex buyers and traffickers.  

  • Support border security and law enforcement policies consistent with humanitarian values.  

  • Oppose efforts to reduce access to IDs, birth certificates, education, health care for the U.S. born children of immigrants.  

  • Support efforts to ensure faith and nonprofit organizations can continue to minister and provide services to refugees that are placed in Texas. 

The Legislature passed several important pieces of legislation to improve the state’s ability to prosecute traffickers and improve victim care. SB 20, an omnibus human trafficking bill, that implements all of the recommendations of the Texas Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force, including increased oversight by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation over massage therapy businesses, stronger criminal penalties for trafficking, prostitution buyers, and related criminal offenses, and improves access to treatment and services and compensation for trafficking victims. 

SB 1801 would allow victims of trafficking to obtain orders of non-disclosure for certain crimes they were forced to commit by their traffickers. HB 403 requires school board members and superintendents to receive training on child sexual abuse, human trafficking, and other issues of maltreatment of children. HB 1771, the Child Sex Trafficking Victims Protections and Provisions Act, was vetoed by the governor, but it would have prohibited police officers from arresting or referring to juvenile court children suspected of engaging in forced prostitution and instead require them to be returned to a parent or local child welfare agency. In his veto statement, Gov. Abbott stated, “Although House Bill 1771 is a well-intentioned tool to protect victims of human trafficking, it has unintended consequences. . . . [It] takes away options that law enforcement and prosecutors can use to separate victims from their traffickers, and it may provide a perverse incentive for traffickers to use underage prostitutes, knowing they cannot be arrested for engaging in prostitution.” The bill was supported by the Houston police department and several anti-human trafficking advocates. 

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