Why All Eyes Need To Be On Texas Right Now
Hundreds of new laws that are going into effect in Texas may end up shaping how the country as a whole decides many of the most controversial issues dividing the nation.
September 03, 2021 at 11:22 am
As the Texas Tribune reports, 666 new laws went into effect in Texas on September 1. (Despite the prominence of Christianity in Texas politics, the state’s Republican governor and GOP-led legislature seem to not have noticed the irony in the number associated with the antichrist, oppressive government and the end of the world). Some of these laws will likely be beneficial for Texans and please voters on both sides of the political aisle, such as funding for higher education or provisions making it easier for some vulnerable populations to receive food assistance.
However, a number of the new laws are highly controversial, with many arguing that they will restrict the rights of women and increase violence, especially toward Black and brown communities. The laws join a number of controversial measures that had either been put into effect in Texas earlier this summer or are poised to become law soon.
Many of these new laws and policies not only impact the people of Texas but are having a major influence on the rest of the country as well. Here is a brief breakdown of the most contentious laws in Texas and their impact on the nation as a whole.
Near Total Abortion Ban Sets Up Supreme Court Fight Over Roe v. Wade
The most controversial new law implemented in Texas on Wednesday was the state’s ban on most abortions. The new law criminalizes the procedure once fetal cardiac activity can be detected, which usually happens around six weeks into pregnancy. As the vast majority of pregnant women do not know that they are pregnant this early, the law essentially criminalizes nearly all abortions in the state.
Also controversial is the way in which the law is enforced. Rather than having the state restrict abortion based on the cardiac activity standard, the law allows private citizens to sue anyone who performs or “aids and abets” an abortion procedure under these circumstances.
If successful, those sued under the law can be liable to pay up to $10,000 to the plaintiffs, who may not even have any connection to the people they sue. As The New York Times reports, the wording of the law is likely intended to circumvent the abortion protections guaranteed by the Supreme Court through rulings such as Roe v. Wade — these rulings cover the ability of governments to restrict abortion, but may not apply to the standing of private citizens to sue as stipulated in the new Texas law.
The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, declined to prevent the Texas abortion law from going into effect, though the Court has not ruled on the constitutionality of the law. Liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in her dissent to the majority’s decision, condemned the law:
“The Texas State Legislature has deputized the state's citizens as bounty hunters,” she argued, “offering them cash prizes for civilly prosecuting their neighbors' medical procedures.”
The Texas ban, which marks the first time that the Supreme Court has allowed such a restrictive abortion law since Roe, will likely embolden other conservative state legislatures to enact their own restrictions. The law is also setting up what will almost certainly be a heated fight by abortion rights advocates in court, a fight that will inevitably be left up to the current, conservative-dominated Supreme Court to decide.
Texas is implementing some police reform while blocking larger movements for change
Several measures passed by the Texas state legislature regard police reform in some capacity. Some of these new laws are actually progressive, or at least bring Texas in line with prevailing norms regarding police force and accountability. As the Tyler Morning Telegraph reports, the state now requires police officers to wear and activate body cameras during all investigations. Texas also banned police chokeholds in most cases, and requires police to report their fellow officers for using the banned technique or otherwise using excessive force.
At the same time, however, the Texas legislature has passed two laws clearly meant to shield police officers and departments. One bill allows the state government to punish cities who cut police budgets by adjusting those cities’ sales tax rates. The measure basically gives the Republican-dominated state government control over local efforts to defund the police. Another controversial measure makes it a felony to block emergency vehicles. This measure has largely been interpreted as a way to criminalize Black Lives Matter protests, a goal that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott made explicit earlier this year when he "said the quiet part out loud" by tweeting, “Peaceful protest doesn’t include blocking emergency vehicles or obstructing access to a hospital.”
Peaceful protest doesn’t include blocking emergency vehicles or obstructing access to a hospital.
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) June 2, 2021
As the struggle over police reform continues, these new laws in Texas may serve as test cases for how new restrictions are implemented and the extent to which state governments can block or impede local-level reforms and civilian protests for change.
Texas gets even more gun-friendly, and possibly more violent
Gun culture is huge in Texas, and the state was already one of the most gun-friendly places in the nation. New laws put in place this week are making it even more so. As Houston Public Media reports, nearly two dozen new gun laws are going into effect, most of which loosen gun regulations. For instance, Texas has been an open carry state since 2016, allowing licensed gun owners to openly wear their firearms in public. Now, the state has removed the licensing requirement, meaning gun owners do not have to obtain a license or training in order to carry weapons in public, as Texas inches closer to the Wild Wild West image that many people have of the state. To make matters more problematic, gun rights such as open carry status have generally been subject to racial bias in Texas, with Black gun owners not enjoying the same freedoms as their white counterparts.
Another law declares that firearm suppressors, commonly known as silencers, that are made and sold in Texas are not subject to the strict federal regulations that govern the sale of these devices. Many legal experts and gun shop operators, however, remain skeptical that the Texas law will be able to supersede federal regulations, since that would be, well, very illegal. Even more defiant of federal regulations, one new — and likely unconstitutional — law bans state and local agencies from enforcing any new federal gun restrictions, making Texas a “Second Amendment Sanctuary State.”
It is unclear whether these laws will have much practical impact, though their enforcement could influence any national Second Amendment fights in federal court. Meanwhile, gun control advocates worry that they could heighten danger in a state that has already seen a significant increase in mass shootings. In a sad reflection of the current reality, one new Texas law actually creates an Active Shooter Alert System for the state.
Texas Gov. Abbott continues to block mask mandates and other COVID-fighting measures
In May, Gov. Abbott issued an executive order blocking local governments in Texas from implementing mask mandates in their cities. At the time of the order, COVID-19 cases were in decline as vaccines halted the spread of the disease, and many were hopeful about the country opening up. Since then, the delta variant and increasingly hostile anti-vaccine and anti-mask resistance from some conservatives has led to an alarming new wave of COVID infections and deaths. Texas is currently one of the worst states for COVID cases and deaths, and the state’s hospitals are at the point of running out of capacity to treat all patients. The new school year is only exacerbating this problem, as new cases multiply among largely unmasked students and vulnerable teachers; just this week, for example, one school district recently suspended all in-person instruction after two teachers died from COVID in the same day.
Yet, the governor has maintained the mask mandate ban, prioritizing the rights of Texans not to wear pieces of cloth over their faces over the rights of children and teachers to avoid long-term illness or death. (Notably, this idea of school freedom doesn't prevent schools from otherwise controlling what students wear, which one district has cleverly used by adding masks to the dress code). The state also extended a ban on vaccine passports and implemented a new law that will prevent churches from being closed for any reason, even during an evacuation or pandemic. Now, local officials are suing Gov. Abbott over the ban.
Meanwhile, many of the state’s largest school districts, such as Dallas and Austin, have simply chosen to defy the governor by issuing mandates for students and teachers to wear masks. These standoffs over masks in Texas reflect larger clashes over mask policies; for instance, the Washington Post reports that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is using his own mask mandate ban to punish school districts that have enforced masking policies, even after a state judge struck down the governor’s ban. The outcome of the mask fight in Texas will likely impact how mask proponents and opponents proceed in other states as well.
Texas continues to rewrite history and block education about racism
It's not just masks that are being banned in Texas schools. The state jumped on the bandwagon of outrage over curriculum about systemic racism by outlawing K-12 schools from teaching critical race theory (which isn't actually taught at that level anyway) or utilizing material from the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project (which should be taught because a lot of American history is quite racist) in their curriculum. Although the new laws mandate students be taught about the wrongs of specific instances of racism such as slavery or the KKK, the laws seem aimed at barring any discussions of racism as a systemic and ongoing issue in Texas or the United States.
Texas is going one step further by creating its own historical interpretation, the 1836 Project. The project is named after the year that Texas seceded from Mexico and briefly became an independent nation, all so that it could eventually join the United States, a process that sparked the Mexican-American War.
Across the country, conservatives have been restricting education about systemic racism, and fights over how to interpret history influence debates on how to view and approach current issues of racism and discrimination. Texas’ attempt to write its own version of history is part of a conservative trend of “patriotic education” that downplays or misinterprets racism in American history and in the country today. The Texas project mirrors efforts by the Trump White House, which previously published its own 1776 Report — on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, no less — just before Donald Trump left office.
Texas voting rights restrictions are poised to be implemented soon
Texas has been ground zero for the fight over voting rights. As Blavity previously reported, the GOP-dominated legislature’s attempts to rush through new restrictions on voting rights prompted dozens of Democratic legislators in the state to straight-up leave the state. These Democrats flew to Washington, D.C., both to deny the Texas legislature the quorum needed to pass the voting measures and to lobby Congress to renew federal voting rights protections. Despite these valiant efforts, however, Texas was eventually able to pass the controversial restrictions, which await Gov. Abbott’s signature before becoming law.
As NPR reports, the new voting laws increase voting restrictions by implementing new voter ID requirements for mail-in voting and by eliminating both drive-through voting and 24-hour voting — both methods that were highly popular, particularly among Black residents of Houston who came out in large numbers in 2020. The new Texas regulations also increasingly criminalize instances of ineligible voting, even when done unintentionally.
Such measures are likely to increase the number of cases, like those of Crystal Mason and Hervis Rogers, who were both criminally punished in Texas for voting while ineligible due to not having completed all the terms set by previous criminal convictions. And Texas joins other GOP-led states like Georgia and Florida that are testing out various ways of restricting Black and other minority or Democratic-leaning votes after the results of the 2020 election cycle.
Overall, Texas has become a hotbed for divisive policies and a testing ground for legislation that fulfills many of the goals of the conservative movement in America. The impact of these new Texas laws will immediately be felt among the state’s 29 million citizens, while the larger legal decisions and precedents that emerge from Texas may have a huge impact on the entire country. Everything from abortion rights to police reform to pandemic and education policies may be determined or heavily influenced by the new laws coming into effect in the Lone Star State this year.