This post was originally published on Defender Network

Though there are over 20 new state laws that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2022, the two new-ish laws that will probably have the biggest impact on Houston’s Black and Brown communities are the “voter suppression law” (SB 1) and the “six-week abortion ban” (SB 8).

The state of Texas made national news for what pro-rights advocates label an “anti-abortion” law. Since Sept. 1, 2021, abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy have been banned in the state through a novel law that allows private citizens to sue anyone who “aids or abets” a person who gets an abortion. That means a parent our spouse who counsels someone who gets an abortion, as well as an Uber or Lift driver who delivers that person to the clinic for the prohibited procedure, could be sued in Texas courts.

In a very recent hearing, a federal appeals court indicated it is likely to send Texas’ restrictive abortion law to the state supreme court, a move that could add months or longer before the case is resolved. But until then, the law will continue to impact Texas citizens, in particular, Black and Latinx women.

Dr. Kim Baker

“There is new research that shows state legalized abortion reduced deaths among Black women. Throughout the reproductive justice community, it is clear that this ban will increase a crisis that we already face in Black maternal health,” said Dr. Kim Baker, co-founder of the Race Equity Leadership and Research Collective (RE-Collective for short), a Houston-area, Black women-led, local organization that seeks to develop young leaders able to take organizations from symbolic, anti-racist acts to substantive, liberating change for Blacks and other people of color.

The new research to which Baker refers comes from a study produced by Georgia State University researchers that shows reviewed health records from the 1960s and 70s found that state-level legalization of abortion produced a 30 to 40% decline in non-white maternal mortality, with little impact on overall or white maternal mortality. 

“Our findings suggest that legal abortion was crucial for non-white women but not as critical for white women,” said the study’s co-author Lauren Hoehn-Velasco, assistant professor in GSU’s Department of Economics.

“The larger effects for racial and ethnic minorities could be due to economic disadvantages. These groups may have had less financial ability to travel to states or other countries allowing abortions,” said study co-author Michael Pesko, associate professor in GSU’s Department of Economics who specializes in evaluating health policies.

“Alternatively, a number of states allowed abortions in cases where the mother’s health was at risk prior to Roe v. Wade, and non-white women may have had less regular access with the healthcare system to identify problematic pregnancies and receive consent for abortions from physicians,” added Pesko.

The third member of the GSU research team that produced the report is Sherajum Monira Farin, a graduate student in the Department of Economics.

Still, the “voter suppression” law (SB 1) stands to have the biggest impact on state residents in 2022 and beyond.

Though Gov. Greg Abbott, who signed the bill into law last Sept. 7, touts it as a major deterrent to fraudulent votes, even though such votes are statistically almost non-existent in Texas and in the U.S., many, including the U.S. Justice Department, view it as blatant voter suppression, with some calling it “Jim Crow 2.0.”

On Nov. 1, 2021, the U.S. Justice Department announced it is suing the state of Texas over SB 1, what they call a discriminatory law.

“The Civil Rights Division is committed to protecting the fundamental right to vote for all Americans,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Laws that impair eligible citizens’ access to the ballot box have no place in our democracy. Texas Senate Bill 1’s restrictions on voter assistance at the polls and on which absentee ballots cast by eligible voters can be accepted by election officials are unlawful and indefensible.”

“Our democracy depends on the right of eligible voters to cast a ballot and to have that ballot counted,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “The Justice Department will continue to use all the authorities at its disposal to protect this fundamental pillar of our society.”

Texas House Democrats left Austin mid-legislative session and stayed in the nation’s capital for 38 days, seeking to block the bill into becoming law.

 

Sharon Watkins Jones

Several people, including Sharon Watkins Jones, director of Children at Risk’s Texas Racial Equity Collaborative, content the Texas law goes out of its way to make initiatives put in place by former Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins to make voting easier and more accessible to citizens during the Nov. 2020 presidential election, illegal.

Jones pointed out that the law bans 24-hour polling places and drive-thru voting; opens any election official who tries sending an application to someone who doesn’t request one to criminal charges; and gives carte blanche to partisan “poll watchers,” a move Democrats argue could lead to early 1960s-style voter intimidation and poll place violence.

Not only will this law negatively impact Texas’ Black vote, it will do the same to the state’s Latinx vote, according to Maria Teresa Kumar, CEO of Voto Latino.

Kumar told the Texas Tribune last September, “SB 1 is an arduous law designed to limit Tejanos’ ability to exercise their full citizenship. Not only are we filing suit to protect the right to vote for all people of color, and the additional 250,000 young Latino Tejanos who will reach voting age in 2022, but to protect every Texan’s right to vote.”

Kumar is a plaintiff in the federal lawsuit filed in Sept. 2021 to deal with SB 1 that went into effect in the fall of 2021. But what of the 23 Texas laws that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2022? Which ones will impact Black and Latinx communities the most?

The Defender was able to obtain insight on these laws via State Rep. Ron Reynolds.


State Rep. Ron Reynolds on New State Laws

The 23 new laws that that took effect on January 1, 2022 cover topics such as property taxes, renter rights, veteran benefits, bail reform and police budgeting. Here are some of the new laws that could impact our communities of color.

HB 531 will require landlords to disclose to potential renters if a property is in a floodplain or if it has been damaged by flooding in the past. This will make Texas the second state, after Georgia, to require flood disclosure to tenants.

HB 3971 will provide tax breaks for homes in Historic Districts. This new law could help homeowners of historic properties afford to keep them. Under the law, an appraiser who is determining the market value of a home located in a historic district has to consider any restriction on the homeowner’s ability to alter, improve or repair the property. Typically, they’re not allowed to do so under preservation guidelines.

SB 5 states that dog owners can’t leave their dog restrained outside unless they have adequate shelter and water. They also can’t use a chain or weighted restraint. The restraint can’t be one that is shorter than 10 feet or one that is not properly fitted or causes pain or injury. An offense would be a class C misdemeanor with a maximum fine of $500.

SB 6 is a new bail reform law that will prohibit a person who is charged with a violent crime from being released on personal bond. Those released by a judge on personal bond do not have to pay, but they do have to sign a contract agreeing to appear at all required court dates and promise to abstain from breaking the law. Under the new law, they will instead have to give the court cash to get out of jail before their cases are resolved.

SB 8 will provide homeowners with a homestead exemption in the same year they buy their home, instead of having to wait until the following year for the exemption to take effect. This could allow you to save more on property taxes.

SB 23 will require voter approval for police budget cuts. Municipalities in Texas counties with more than one million residents — namely Travis, Dallas, Harris, Bexar and Collin counties — will have to hold elections to reduce law enforcement funding.

SB 794 will provide that any veteran who has been awarded full disability compensation will be entitled to a total property tax exemption, regardless of whether they are actually receiving that compensation. Prior to this change, only veterans receiving the compensation were eligible. This will increase the number of disabled veterans eligible for a total homestead property tax exemption.