Black legislative wrap-up: 3 takeaways from state legislature news
State Reps. Harold Dutton and Senfronia Thompson

BY TIANA WOODARD

The 87th legislative session, which has been underway since January, has been going full steam. But even during these quiet hours come legislative actions that directly affect and concern Houston’s Black residents.

Here’re three main takeaways from the session so far:

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  1. Black lawmakers made historic firsts with this session’s House committee assignments. 

An unprecedented number of Black state legislators will chair and vice-chair the House’s 34 committees this session. 

Among the gains include Rep. Harold Dutton’s appointment as the Public Education Committee’s first Black chair in state history. The first Democratic chair in recent history, Dutton said he was surprised by the Republican Speaker’s move but believes education is a nonpartisan issue.  

“COVID-19 makes it a little more difficult for (the committee), but we’re going to get the job done,” Dutton said. “Hopefully we’ll look back at my tenure … and we can say, ‘Improving education for all our children got its start (here).’”

State Rep. Harold Dutton

Dutton helped push HB 1842, which allows the state Education Commissioner to either close a low-performing school or oust the district’s elected school board. This law gave the state power to announce a takeover of Houston Independent School District (HISD) in November 2019, citing Wheatley High School’s repeated failing ratings. An appeals court upheld a ruling preventing the move last December.

Of the 34 House committees, several positions are filled by Black legislators. This session’s assignments include:

State Rep Senfronia Thompson

Rep. Senfronia Thompson will now chair the Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee. She oversaw the Public Health committee in the previous session.  Rep. Garnet Coleman will oversee the County Affairs Committee.  Rep. Shawn Thierry will vice-chair the Ways and Means Committee.  Rep. Alma Allen will vice-chair the Corrections Committee.

House chairs have the most influence to determine what bills receive committee hearings — one of the many tests they must pass before making it to the governor’s desk.  

  1. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick makes bill that would require publicly funded events to play national anthem a ‘legislative priority’

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced that SB 4, legislation that would require events receiving public funding to play the Star Spangled Banner. This came in response to Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban’s choice to stop playing the national anthem at the team’s home games this season. 

“In this time when so many things divide us, sports are one thing that bring us together — right, left, black, white and brown.”

Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick

“It is hard to believe this could happen in Texas, but Mark Cuban’s actions of yesterday made it clear that we must specify that in Texas we play the national anthem before all major events,” Patrick said in a statement. “In this time when so many things divide us, sports are one thing that bring us together — right, left, black, white and brown.”

 All members of the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks teams kneeled during the national anthem in protest of racial injustice at a game this past July.

SB 4 has not been filed.

  1. Don’t expect state redistricting to be finalized anytime soon. 

In a normal session, the U.S. Census Bureau would’ve begun delivering the redistricting data needed to redraw political maps for 2022 this month. But COVID-19 has forced the U.S. Census Bureau to once again push its distribution deadline back to Sept. 30.

This means Texas lawmakers will likely have to reconvene for a special session in the fall. Constitutional arguments against redistricting outside of the regular session could join the expected court disputes over Black and brown voters at that time.

The state Senate Committee for Redistricting is still hearing testimony and previously, some Houston residents spoke out against gerrymandering’s disproportionate impacts on the area’s constituents of color.