I have been thinking about what reforms I would like to see in the next Texas legislative session that will do more to avoid future unjust results out of law enforcement. And it reminded me of a sad story from the last Texas legislative session.
The lesson of this story is that, despite the media and Democrats telling us in every way they can that minorities will be better protected from police abuse if the Dems are in power, what happened in the Texas legislature in 2019 argues differently.
The is about how Texas House Democrats scrambled at the last minute to kill a good bill by Republican State Rep James White (HB 2754), which he called his Sandra Bland bill, designed to reduce incidents of police abuse. Rep. White was attempting to implement 2018 Republican Party of Texas Platform Plank 92:
No Jail for Non-jailable Offenses: We call upon the Texas Legislature to end the practice of jailing individuals for offenses for which jail is not an allowable consequence under the law.
Representative White’s bill made good progress toward making it clear that arresting people for non-jailable offenses, the act that led to the death of Sandra Bland in Waller County, should not standard operating procedure for law enforcement.
Texas State Representative James White (R - Woodville)
All legislation has to make it through a gauntlet of competing interests. The bill left a few exceptions requiring probable cause to the new rule in place:
(1) Failure to arrest the offender creates a clear and immediate danger to the offender of the public.
(2) Failure to arrest the offender will allow a continued breach of the public peace, or
(3) The offender will not appear in court in accordance with the citation.
In the legislative process in the Texas House, the normal process for amendment and significant discussion of a bill is on second reading. In the Bland Bill’s situation, 3 amendments were offered on second reading. Two passed and one was withdrawn. One of the amendments that passed was by a Democrat. None had anything to do with the exceptions. The Bland Bill passed on voice vote.
Because I was tracking the bill, I made a congratulatory and celebratory post the night of the passage on second reading.
But in the 24 hours between passage on second reading, and what is normally a routine passage on third reading, Texas House Democrat leadership rallied an assault on the bill, persuading a good number of Republicans to join them.
What was the stated reason for the switch on the part of the Democrats? The exceptions remaining in the bill. Essentially, they argued that lack of “perfection” (i.e., including the exceptions) was the enemy of the good improvement the bill was making.
Tellingly, nobody introduced an amendment to address the stated concern. The Democrats could have easily passed an amendment to remove the exceptions. But no one did. Given that amendments have to be prepared in advance and that the surprise assault was launched on third reading, the blame for that has to fall on the Democrats who launched the assault.
And the bill went down on a vote of 55 Yeas, 88 Nays. Only 12 of the 55 voting yes were Democrats, including some respected longtime leaders like Senfronia Thompson and Oscar Longoria, so this was not a completely partisan divide. However, 50 Democrats, including Chris Turner, House Democratic Caucus Chair, voted against the Bland Bill. The Republican vote was 42 in favor of the bill and 38 against.
Then we have this “special” situation where nine Democrats went on record to say that although voted no, they meant to vote yes. And four Republicans said even though they voted yes, they meant to vote no. When I say, “special,” I hope you hear the Church Lady from Saturday Night Live saying that word.
Clearly there is blame to be shared by both Democrats and Republicans for this bill failing. But given the Democrat-led, last-minute assault and numbers of votes, the Democrats demand more blame than the Republicans. And the Democrats actions certainly have not proven that they are better at addressing police abuses than Republicans.
Remember that the main way Dems get elected is to demagogue on the race issue. If the real issues impacting discrimination and race tensions are actually solved, what have they got left?
I think that what happened between the second reading and the third reading is that Democrat leadership realized that Republicans were about to solve one of the big problems they demagogue about and went into a panic. If the Republicans actually solved a problem that benefits what they view as their base, that base might start voting Republican.
So, to maintain their power, White's legislation which made real progress on solving the problem had to die.
The battleground for which party controls the future of Texas is being fought primarily in the hearts and minds of the urban and suburban voters. The Dems were smart enough to see that the GOP platform and White's bill was a real threat to their hold on those voters.
It is a pity that the Republicans who defected and voted with the Dems against White's bill were not smart enough to figure out what was going on and did not stand with Rep. White as he courageously attempted to implement a plank of the GOP that could have made a real difference in people's lives and the future prospects of the GOP in Texas.
Note that five freshman Texas House Democrats who flipped their districts from Democrat to Republican in 2018 voted against the Bland Bill. All will have strong challengers in the 2020 general election. Those Democrats are:
Erin Zwiener, HD 45 in Hays and Blanco Counties, challenged by the winner of the Republican runoff between Carrie Isaac and Bud Wymore and by Green Dan Lyon. (Note that Zwiener was one that later said she meant to vote yes. She was against it before she was for it.)
Vikki Goodwin, HD 47 in Western Travis County, challenged by the winner of the Republican runoff between Jennifer Fleck or Justin Berry and Libertarian Michael Clark.
Michelle Beckley, HD 65 in Southeast Denton County, challenged by Republican Kronda Thimesch.
Gina Calanni, HD 132 in Western Harris County, challenged by former Republican State Rep. Mike Schofield.
Jon Rosenthal, HD 135 in near Northwest Harris County, challenged by Republican Justin Ray and Libertarian Paul Bilyeu.
Note also that Democrat State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, who is currently seeking the Senate District 14 seat in a special election voted against the Sandra Bland Bill.
For the good of Texas and liberty and justice for all, let’s hope that we get more focus on reform measures in 2021. And let’s hope that those voters in swing districts get the facts about the sad actions of Democrats on the vital issue of police abuse. Tom Glass lives in Northwest Harris County. Click here to reach his email. He is also on Facebook as Tom G Glass. He leads a group called Texas Constitutional Enforcement which can be explored at its website or Facebook group.