Black legislative agenda: Local lawmakers tackle issues

The 85th Texas legislative session is underway in Austin and runs through May 29. Bills passed by the House and Senate will have a profound impact on the state’s residents.

The Defender asked the Houston area’s eight African-American legislators to address the issues they will personally focus on in Austin, and why those issues are important to their constituents. Criminal justice reform is at the top of the list, followed by education, employment and senior citizen protection.

ALMA ALLEN

State Rep., District 131

“The number one issue I am focusing on this year will be HB 1404, which will allow a person with a misdemeanor to petition the court for an order of nondisclosure of their criminal history record information, if the person satisfies certain criteria.  This will allow them to get a second chance in life, by making it easier to get jobs and housing despite their criminal record.  African- Americans have been negatively impacted by a criminal justice system that has over-criminalized and excessively penalized non-violent behavior, and our community would greatly benefit from this legislation.”

GARNET COLEMAN

State Rep., District 147

“I am introducing the Sandra Bland Act in memory of Sandra Bland, and to address the harmful policies that ultimately led to her tragic death. The Sandra Bland Act aims to improve our criminal justice system and prevent future tragedies. The Act will decrease racial disparities in traffic stops and searches, strengthen Texas’ Racial Discrimination law, and increase the use of personal recognizance bonds – just to name a few of the important policies in the Act that will benefit African-Americans, as well as all Texans.”

HAROLD DUTTON

State Rep., District 142 

“My number one issue is how to improve the education outcomes of those children at the bottom of the education ladder. For example, none of the changes that have been made in public education have eliminated Black males from always being at the bottom in education. And yet we question why do so many of our Black boys end up in our criminal justice system. We will either educate them or incarcerate them. It’s cheaper for taxpayers to educate them and will protect our democracy.”

JARVIS JOHNSON

State Rep., District 139

“My primary focus in the 85th legislative session is increasing educational and employment opportunities. I strongly believe every student deserves access to an education that will allow them to compete in a highly competitive workforce. One key way to do this is by increasing Career and Technical Education (CTE) opportunities in public high schools. I have filed House Bill 374, requiring the Texas Education Agency to provide all information on all CTE partnership opportunities with business and industry available regionally.  This legislation will help strengthen African-American families and communities by increasing opportunities for high-skilled, high-wage employment.”

BORRIS MILES

State Sen., District 13

“Education and job growth are my top priorities this session. We need to prepare our youth for a clear job path after high school, whether that’s to a community college, university or to technical fields where they can be hired after completing certification. We need to keep our kids from falling through the cracks and get them on a path to good-paying jobs, many of which do not require a college degree. To assist with this, I filed legislation expanding paid internship/externships for college and high school students, as well as offering tax credits to companies who hire interns.”

RON REYNOLDS

State Rep., District 27

“My number one issue is criminal justice reform. Recent tragic events across our country have brought these issues to the forefront and I have two pieces of legislation this session to help address the glaring disparities that African-Americans face in our justice system.  HB 854 would require the appointment of a special prosecutor when there is an officer-involved injury or death. The second bill will allow for a defendant to have a lawyer present in the room during grand jury proceedings. It is time to take steps to reduce the disparate impact that our criminal justice system has on African-Americans and institute reforms that apply justice fairly and equitably for all.”

SHAWN THIERRY

State Rep., District 146

“I am tackling many issues that are critical to our community, like fixing food deserts, slumlord-owned apartments, and the rising maternal mortality rate among Black women. However, my initial priority is protecting senior citizens. I filed HB 959, the Financial Elder Abuse and Exploitation Prevention Act, which creates penalties for those who prey on the elderly with money schemes and scams.  My bill also mandates that banks report any suspected financial abuse.  Our grandparents are the backbones of our communities, and I will fight to provide them with protections and peace of mind during their golden years.”

SENFRONIA THOMPSON

State Rep., District 141

“One of my priorities is criminal justice reform. African-Americans have been disproportionately impacted by the flaws in our criminal justice system. I am working on filing legislation to stop officers from making senseless arrest for fine only offenses, such as the case with Sandra Bland; allow parolees with good conduct to have their parole terminated sooner; make sentencing for crimes match the severity of the crime; propose grand jury reform to prevent needless indictments; and end the targeting of minority men and women by amending our racial profiling laws.”