Lawmakers move bills on transgender students in sports, redistricting, voting, and laundry list for federal pandemic aid expenditures

Map of Texas divided into 31 Senate districts on bright red background

Now in its third week of the third special session, the Legislature pushed through legislation that would discriminate against transgender student athletes and further suppress the vote.

Last week Gov. Greg Abbott added a new item to the special session to increase penalties for illegal voting—including honest mistakes—despite the fact that he signed a bill less than a month ago that would reduce these penalties. House Speaker Dade Phelan signaled that he was not interested in taking up this issue during the current legislative session, but the Senate passed SB 10, which would increase the penalty for voting illegally from a Class A misdemeanor back to a felony.

HB 25, which would restrict transgender athletes from competing in athletic competitions with their own gender groups, was passed out of the House Constitutional Rights and Remedies Select Committee. In the past three legislative sessions, similar versions of this bill have been sent to the House Public Education Committee but ultimately failed to pass. The bill still requires approval from the full House before going through the entire process again in the Senate.

On Monday, the Senate approved newly redrawn maps redistricting the State Board of Education (SBOE) and the Senate itself. Both the 15 district SBOE map and the 31 district Senate map have drawn criticism for not fairly representing Texans. Although over 95% of the state’s population growth this past decade came from communities of color, the senate did not draw any new districts in which people of color would represent a majority. It was especially noteworthy that the Senate map, which drew out Democratic Senator Beverly Powell (D-Fort Worth), was supported by three Democratic Senators.

On Monday, the Senate Redistricting Committee approved a new map dividing the state into 38 U.S. Congressional Districts. Due to population increases over the past decade, Texas was allocated two more congressional districts. In the proposed map, 60.5% of the 38 congressional districts would have a white majority. The map also would redraw districts in Houston such that Democrat Representative Al Green and Sheila Jackson Lee would now inhabit the same Congressional district, effectively pitting the two incumbents against each other. Both representatives are black and represent districts where the vast majority of voters are people of color. Both have represented their communities in Congress for over 15 years each. This version of the map faces a more uncertain future in the House.

The House Redistricting Committee also met for more than 16 hours this Monday to accept testimony on a new map dividing the state into 150 Texas House Districts. The committee revised the map and approved it the next day without any support from Democrats. The full House is set to consider its map on Tuesday.

The new maps create fewer districts where Black and Hispanic people make up a majority of eligible voters.Contact members of the Texas House and Senate and tell them to adopt fair redistricting guidelines! Join with our allies at All on the Line to take action.

This week the Legislature discussed plans to allocate funds granted to the state by the American Rescue Plan. HB 145 was heard in the House Appropriations committee and would appropriate $286 million to the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS). This bill was left pending in committee. A similar bill, SB 8, was heard in the Senate Finance Committee this Thursday. The Texas AFL-CIO, with input from Texas AFT, announced a list of recommendations for over $16 billion in ARPA allocations.

The House Youth & Safety Select Committee met this week to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health needs of Texas youth and identification of effective treatment strategies. The committee received several hours of invited testimony from children’s mental health experts and public education officials but took no action.

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