On April 15, 2021, we held a Stand Up Republic-Texas Hill Day. Let me start with some thoughts about Texas politics.
The Texas state-wide offices are dominated by the Texas GOP. The Texas State House and Senate meet once every two years for 144 days. Yes, you heard that right, they have 144 days to pass the bi-annual budget and other legislative priorities. This also means the legislature often passes laws in such a hurry that they do not take the time to consider the consequences of each bill. The legislative priorities are typically set by the “Big Three” – Governor, Lt. Governor (President of the Senate), and the Speaker of the House. The 87th legislative session is no exception.
Now, as you would imagine the Texas GOP and Texas Democratic party issued separate platforms outlining the parties’ priorities. Stand Up Republic–Texas also issued a platform for the 87th legislative session, which included:
- Protection/expansion of voter rights.
- Election reform.
- Keeping local control local.
Another important aspect of Texas politics is the power of industry groups, industry associations, private companies, and various political action groups. These groups wield significant political power over the legislative priorities and over which bills get a committee hearing and eventually a floor vote.
On April 15, 2021, we headed to Austin, Texas. Interestingly, the Texas State Senate requires a negative COVID-19 test to enter the Senate side of the capitol, but the House does not. So, at 7:00 am we got our COVID quick test and then registered to testify. We registered in support of HB 740 – a ranked-choice voting bill for the military. Sandra Weinstein, one of our SUR-Texas volunteers, registered to provide live testimony.
Normally, the committee chair issues an invitation to provide testimony in the morning session, then, the people who register to testify have to wait in the virtual line to talk for three minutes. The invited testimonies are typically from people friendly to the bill and special interest group representatives who support the bill. It is important to note that hundreds of people from all over Texas often drive great distances to testify for and against bills. But, based on how the House and Senate schedule their daily sessions, they are often denied this opportunity as sessions often go deep into the late hours of the night, such as with SB10, HS740, and many others.
After preliminary discussion from 8-10 a.m., the committee had to adjourn so that the Texas House could go into session to debate and pass HB1927, a constitutional carry bill, which would allow citizens to obtain a concealed carry license without training as is currently required. The Elections Committee reconvened around 7:40 p.m. for further testimony on HB740. We waited with the League of Women Voters-Austin and the Texas Rank Choice group to testify. In our case, we had to wait 14 hours to testify, which is normal for the Texas legislature. Unfortunately, after waiting all day, we had to make the tough decision to leave before we were able to provide testimony. Instead, we are going to submit a letter of support for HB 740 to the Elections Committee.
While waiting for the House to get back to HB740, we visited the Texas House Calendar Committee to ask members to prevent House Bill 6 from getting a floor vote. Along with Senate Bill 7, these two bills will significantly increase voter suppression for the 2022 election. We also attended an Austin clergy rally to protest House Bill 6 and Senate Bill 7. There are many groups and individuals who are united in opposition to these two voter suppression bills.
Senate Bill 7 and House Bill 6 would:
- Prohibit drive-thru and 24-hour voting.
- Reduce the number of polling locations for five counties.
- Discourage volunteers from driving voters, including the elderly, to polling places.
- Eliminate county election officers’ ability to even suggest voting by mail.
- Allow highly partisan poll watchers to videotape voters under the guise of fighting ‘election fraud.’
- Allow highly partisan poll watchers to conduct voter intimidation without consequences.
- Fine voter registrars for simple mistakes, such as misspelling an address.
It is our belief that the State of Texas is trying to make voting harder for the 2022 election. These voting bills were targeted toward Harris County, Texas (Houston), which implemented creative ways to safely and securely vote during the 2020 election, and which drew the ire of the Texas GOP.
The threats to voting rights are very real. SUR Texas will keep fighting to protect the voting rights of all eligible voters. We need your help to do it. If you live in Texas, please reach out to us to find out how you can get more involved. Email us at [email protected].