More Bad Bill Updates From the Texas Legislature
Last Friday, Sept. 1, hundreds of laws passed by the Texas Legislature earlier this year were scheduled to go into effect.
Despite the planned implementation, many were stalled thanks to court-ordered injunctions. Many of these stalled bills are incredibly consequential to public educators and are equally controversial.
In last week’s Hotline, we went over several bills that were scheduled to go into effect Sept. 1; some were stalled, some have had a rocky implementation, and some have garnered significant public opposition. This week, we’re looking at a few more such bills.
HB 2127: The “Death Star” Bill, Preempting Local Pro-Worker Ordinances
The so-called “Death Star” bill, a name given by the bill’s opponents but also tellingly adopted by the bills’ supporters, has long threatened the progress that local unions have made in fighting for pro-worker ordinances at the local level.
The bill, which has been filed several times over past legislative sessions, would preempt local control by banning municipal governments from implementing certain progressive or pro-worker ordinances, including mandated water breaks for construction workers.
This May, at the beginning of what has become the hottest Texas summer on record, the Texas Legislature passed HB 2127 by Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock), which would deprive thousands of Texas workers of water breaks despite the record heat this summer.
In response to the bill’s passage, several lawsuits were filed to stop its implementation.
Last Wednesday, just two days before the bill was scheduled to go into effect, a judge ruled that the bill was unconstitutional on the grounds that it runs contrary to the Texas Constitution’s grant of “the full power of self-government” to home rule cities. The constitution grants cities with a population over 5,000 the power to pass any ordinance that does not conflict with state law. Critics of the bill also argue that HB 2127 is too vague for cities to properly enforce.
The state is currently appealing this ruling.
While HB 2127 does not directly target educators, it does mirror other attempts at preemption of local control faced by educators, including TEA’s takeover of Houston ISD.
SB 14: Banning Life-Saving Health Care for Texas Trans Youth
After fierce opposition at the Texas Capitol and overwhelming testimony against the bill, the Texas Legislature passed SB 14 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), which bans transgender Texans under the age of 18 from receiving gender-affirming health care.
In response to the bill’s passage, families of trans Texans and medical professionals have sued the state, alleging that SB 14 discriminates against trans youth, infringes on parents’ rights to administer medically approved care to their children, and violates a physician’s right to occupational freedom.
The ban includes puberty blockers, hormone therapy, and transition-related surgery. No specific medical procedure is banned outright. Instead, these procedures are banned for the purpose of gender transition. Because this care is being denied only to certain populations experiencing gender dysphoria, critics of the bill assert that SB 14 is discriminatory.
An injunction was granted by a state district court, but the acting Texas attorney general appealed the decision, sending the case up to the Supreme Court of Texas. The Supreme Court of Texas did not grant an immediate injunction before the bill could go into effect, but it will hear arguments for the temporary injunction in the coming weeks.
SB 17: Banning Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Higher Education
While SB 17 by Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) does not officially go into effect until January 2024, many colleges and universities are already taking action to implement this bill that bans diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs at institutions of higher education in Texas.
We covered this wide-reaching attack on diversity in Texas in a previous issue of the Hotline unpacking how higher education fared this legislative session.
As one example, the DEI office at the University of North Texas will be eliminated and the vice president of DEI will retire, according to an email from the university president to the community. Several offices previously housed within the DEI office — including the offices of Title IX, equal employment opportunity, and affirmative action — will be moved under different departments within the university. The university is also working to reassign the 27 staff members that currently work within the office of DEI to other offices across the university.
The University of Houston will continue some of the programs previously operated by the DEI office under the new Center for Student Advocacy and Community. The center, however, will not designate special places for LGBTQ+ students and racial and ethnic minority populations, and it will not host any diversity-based training or programming. Student organizations can continue diversity-based training and programming, but this cannot be considered mandatory.
Students across the state are protesting the implementation of this new law.
SB 18: Weakening Tenure Protections in Higher Education
In another attack leveled at higher education in the state of Texas, SB 18 by Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) weakens the protections afforded to tenured staff at institutions of higher education. These protections protect a professor or researcher from being fired without cause. Tenure is only granted to the top professors in their fields of study who have been rigorously evaluated over a period of about six years.
Tenure protects professors who, say, teach and research things that the appointed boards of university might not agree with, especially when it relates to political topics. SB 18 was passed by the Legislature on a mostly party-line vote.
We covered this attack on tenure in a previous issue of the Hotline, unpacking how higher education fared this legislative session. In brief, the new law weakens tenure by expanding the list of fireable offenses to include overly vague and broadly defined behavior.
This summer, in response to SB 18’s passage, the boards of regents for institutions of higher education have adopted new tenure policies, which basically copy the exact language from SB 18 and do nothing to expand tenure protections outside of the low bar outlined by the bill.
Many groups, including the AFT-affiliated American Association of University Professors (AAUP), and other allied organizations representing university professors, have opposed this bill since it was first conceived.
The passage of SB 17 and SB 18 has led many university professors to consider leaving the state, according to a new survey conducted by AAUP. More than a quarter of the 1,900 Texas faculty members who responded to the survey are considering leaving the state, and more than two-thirds responded that they would not recommend a position in Texas to a colleague.