The truth on the 13th check, other measures in limbo with quorum break
Democrats who broke quorum and flew to Washington, D.C., have said they are adamant about not returning as long as the state leadership and Republican legislators continue their push for voter suppression and intimidation legislation. That leaves the Legislature in limbo, with only the Senate able to move bills that can’t reach final passage without a House quorum.
It also has created a situation where some lawmakers are conveniently forgetting the history of the 13th check legislation for TRS retirees with the goal of placing blame on the absent Democrats. Here’s the truth we released to the media last week from Texas AFT President Zeph Capo:
Texas AFT has stood up for retired educators session after session, demanding supplemental TRS payments and cost-of-living adjustments. These pleas often go unheard; in this year’s regular session, we saw “13th check” and COLA bills stall in the Calendars Committee in the House and fail to reach the Senate floor. Texas had the money then to pay for these benefits, but the governor and legislative leadership didn’t act.
What’s changed in this special session?
Gov. Greg Abbott and his supporters are blaming Texas House Democrats for killing 13th check bills for retirees because they broke quorum and have traveled to Washington D.C., to kill voter suppression legislation and lobby Congress for help. But public school educators in Texas intrinsically understand the value of voting rights in a democracy. Educators teach about the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the terrible legacy of Jim Crow, and the effects of slavery on generations of African-Americans. The right to vote is seminal to our democratic society, of which our public education system is a keystone.
Voting rights are at the heart of our democracy — though we share deeply in the disappointment of hard-working retirees who potentially lose this chance at a 13th check. Thousands of AFT members wrote letters to their Senators demanding a 13th check. Retired educators should not be used as pawns in divisive political debates and partisan fights. The governor and the Legislature had five months (not to mention all the preceding years) to support retired teachers and did nothing, but now they want to use political opportunity to cast blame elsewhere.
Today, as we watch educators fight classroom censorship, the shrill calls echoing in the Capitol for respect for teachers ring hollow. Texas AFT will continue to advocate strongly for public education and the freedoms inherent to our democracy, and we look forward to 13th check and COLA bills moving forward with bipartisan support in future regular or special sessions.
The importance of fighting back for voting rights
In the noisy chaos of Austin politics, it can be difficult to hear clear voices, but Texas state Rep. Senfronia Thompson came through loud and clear this week in a press conference with Democratic colleagues in Washington, D.C.: “When I looked at the African American Museum, I thought about the struggle of my people, fought in this country to get the right to vote. That right is sacred to my constituents that I represent back in Houston,” she said.
On July 8, Texas legislators gaveled in a special session that saw promise and peril for educators: a possible 13th check for TRS retirees on one hand, but on the other, anti-democratic attacks through so-called “critical race theory” legislation, attacks on trans children, and new limits on voting rights. Texas House Democrats broke quorum in May to kill onerous voter suppression laws, and they did so again in this July special session, when state Republican leaders proved unwilling to listen or negotiate over curtailing voting rights. In response, over fifty House Democrats boarded planes to the nation’s capital to lobby federal lawmakers to pass national voting rights legislation.
Voting rights are the lynchpin of our democracy, and they take precedence — though we share in the disappointment of retirees who potentially lose this chance at a 13th check. Thompson’s comments and career offer us an instructive example of what’s at stake in Texas. Look no further than the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s initial coverage of her 1972 election:
Texas has come a long way since that moment, but even after 25 terms in the Legislature, Thompson still has to fight off attempts to limit her and her constituents’ right to vote, “I’m not going to be a hostage that my constituents’ rights might be stripped from them. We have fought too long and too hard in this country.”
Texas House Democrats have stated publicly they would stay in Washington D.C., through Aug. 6 to lobby Congress for passage of federal voting rights legislation.
On July 13, House Speaker Dade Phelan presided over a House motion to bring recalcitrant Democrats back to the Texas Capitol, through arrest if necessary. Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick criticized Democrats for “fleeing” the state and promised political and legislative retribution. On the same day, the Senate advanced SB 1, a voter suppression bill, on a party-line vote (most Senate Democrats also left the Capitol for Washington D.C.).
In short, the Texas political landscape is in chaos, with educators and their students caught in the middle of these political debates and partisan fights. Texas AFT will continue to advocate strongly for public education and for the freedoms inherent to our democracy, and we will keep you updated.
Controversial topics bill gets Senate nod after being gutted of curriculum outlining history of slavery and racism
The Legislature already passed HB 3979 during the regular session to try and stop the imaginary threat of “critical race theory,” and Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill into law, but Abbott’s decision to revisit the legislation in the special session provided an opportunity for lawmakers to revisit the issue. The Senate State Affairs Committee Thursday heard SB 3 (Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola), which resembles the original HB 3979 when it was introduced in early spring. The bill starts again with required curriculum on documents related to the foundation of the United States. But Hughes stripped out almost all of the amendments inserted by Democrats that also listed documents concentrating on the history of people of color and women, as well as a requirement to teach that white supremacy is morally wrong.
Dozens of educators, parents, and students testified against the bill at the hearing, with a scant few in favor of the bill. However, with most Senate Democrats away with their House colleagues breaking quorum, the bill passed out of committee and was quickly passed by the full Senate on a vote of 18-4. The bill still contains provisions that could stifle free speech and create a chilling effect on exploring racism and other controversial topics. Texas AFT opposed the original bill, and we are in fierce opposition to the newest version. With no quorum in the House, the bill is stuck and unable to advance, and it remains uncertain if the original law, HB 3979, will take effect Sept. 1.
Regardless of the outcome of this misguided effort, Texas AFT recognizes that it is nothing more than an attempt to create a wedge issue for local school board races and legislative primary races for conservatives.
Senate repeats attempt to discriminate against transgender students in sports
Texas AFT opposed a bill in the regular session that would discriminate against transgender students by forcing them to “compete in sports associated with their biological sex as determined at or near birth.” The bill died after missing a deadline for House passage, but the governor added it to the special session call. Texas AFT President Zeph Capo testified against SB 2 and SB 32 (Charles Perry, R-San Angelo) during the Senate Health and Human Services Committee hearing Monday. SB 2 states students attending public schools and public institutions of higher education must participate in a sport according to their biological sex, and SB 32 would establish the same rules only for public school students. Both bills passed the full Senate last week, but these bills also cannot advance without quorum in the House.