Legislative Update: Week of April 26

Crown Act gets hearing and continued support from Texas AFT
Policies that explicitly ban Black hairstyles from schools and workplaces continue to disproportionately target and affect Black people across Texas, and that’s wrong. HB 392 (Rhetta Bowers, D-Garland), dubbed the the CROWN Act, would prohibit discrimination based on natural hairstyles and hair texture. Texas AFT supports this bill that would stop discriminatory school policies. The bill was left pending after a hearing in the House State Affairs Committee Thursday. 

Bills prohibiting teaching and discussion of anything ‘controversial’ in school move forward
On Tuesday, the Texas House will hear HB 3979 by Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands. This bill would impact civics instruction for public school students and instruction policies in public schools. Texas AFT agrees that civics is an important topic and that students should be given more opportunities to learn civics in schools. But Toth’s bill is a solution in search of a problem and would make it difficult for educators to discuss important, timely concepts that intersect with our political system, such as race, voting rights, gender equality, and LBGQT rights as related to past or current events.

In the past few months, nine states, including Texas (Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and West Virginia), all filed legislation with language very similar to an executive order issued by former President Donald Trump to ban diversity training for federal workers. This bill and the others like it would cause a chilling effect on educators in fear of the vague warnings against teaching issues that are “racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

The language in the bill about what may be considered controversial is broad, and determining if a teacher has violated this part of the statute is subjective. For example, educators could be subject to disciplinary action if they discuss concepts such as implicit bias or critical race theory, which has been held up as a model best practice in the field.

A companion bill, SB 2202 (Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe), which we opposed, passed the Senate last week.

Legislation passing this week

  • HB 2557 (Glenn Rogers, R-Graford) would allow school security volunteers in certain small counties to carry a gun and exempt them from most liability. Texas AFT opposed this bill out of concern that it would encourage more guns on campus and removes liability for volunteers in most situations. 
  • HB 332 (James Talarico, D-Round Rock) would allow the compensatory education allotment to be used for programs that build certain social and emotional skills. We are pleased to see this bill passed to engrossment.
  • HB 3643 (Ken King, R-Canadian) would create the Texas Commission on Virtual Education. The commission would develop recommendations on the funding and delivery of virtual education. While the pandemic has shown the need to address virtual education issues, a commission would be better suited to evaluating what is effective, rather than legislating changes in the current session.Texas AFT supported this legislation. It now heads to the Senate for consideration.
  • HB 1468 (Keith Bell, R-Forney) would create curriculum and eligibility requirements for school districts to implement their own local remote learning programs to qualify for state funding. The bill passed last week with two amendments, including a Sunset provision by Rep. Ken King. Texas AFT continues to work on this legislation to address concerns and protections for teachers. 
  • SB 1646 (Charles Perry, R-Lubbock) is yet another bill that would allow state-sanctioned discrimination against transgender children. This bill would state that the administering or consenting to a child’s use of puberty suppression treatment, hormones, or surgery for the purpose of gender transitioning would be considered “child abuse,” punishable as a crime. Although several state and national medical associations opposed the bill along with the LGBTQ community and their allies, the bill still passed on a 18-12 vote on the Ssenate floor. Previously, the Senate passed SB 29, also by Perry, which would discriminate against transgender students by forcing them to “compete in sports associated with their biological sex as determined at or near birth.” The House version of the bill, HB 4042 (Cole Hefner, R-Mt. Pleasant), was left pending in committee with reports that there were not enough votes for passage

In Brief:

  • Texas AFT joined the Texas State Employees Union (TSEU) and other Texas unions to oppose SB 321 (Joan Huffman, R-Houston), which includes a switch in state employee pensions from defined benefit plans to cash balance plans. In a joint letter to legislators, the union stressed that the stability of defined benefit pensions is needed to offset the lower salaries paid to state employees.
  • HR 333 (Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress) removed the mask mandate on the House floor and during committee hearings.
  • A resolution supporting the repeal of two Social Security offsets that significantly impact benefits of many educators and other public employees—the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP)—is moving forward in the Legislature. SCR 17 (Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola) passed the Senate and then the Pensions, Investments & Financial Services Committee last week.

    Texas AFT has long pushed for the U.S. Congress to repeal these offsets. The current version of the Social Security Fairness Act (HR 82) has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee. If passed, the bill would ensure Social Security fairness for future public employee retirees and provide current retirees impacted by the WEP with a rebate of $150 per month for life.

Good Bill of the Week
Texas AFT is tracking and watching bills that support the needs of our teachers, students, and school support staff. HB 3871 by Julie Johnson (D-Carrollton) calls for the development and implementation of the Live Well Texas program to expand health insurance coverage to some individuals who might not qualify for current Medicaid insurance. The funding for this program will be matched by the Affordable Care Act. This legislation would help bring health insurance to millions more Texas who struggle to access affordable health insurance in the state.