To say that the 85th Legislature had its ups and downs is probably an understatement. Over the course of session, Texas Appleseed was closely monitoring more than 50 bills day to day – either because they could improve Texans’ lives or because they could harm Texans by pushing them further into debt or the criminal justice system. We thank the lawmakers who put forth and supported good bills that will help Texas families.

As sine die has arrived, here is a spotlight on some of our advocacy work over the past several months:

Supporting Young Kids by Keeping Them in School

The House and Senate both passed a great bill, HB 674 (Rep. Eric Johnson), and we are excited that it’s headed to the Governor’s desk. HB 674 prohibits discretionary out-of-school suspensions for Pre-K through 2nd grade students. The bill does not impact removals for extremely disruptive behavior or removals for serious offenses that are required by law, such as assault, drug or alcohol possession, or weapons possession. It also offers each school district the alternative to identify student needs and create plans to train educators to support students with age-appropriate, research-based methods. This fact sheet has information about the bill and how these types of suspensions hurt students and school climates. Tell Governor Abbott, on Twitter @GregAbbott_TX, that you support HB 674. We need to prevent it from getting vetoed and help it move quickly into law.

Requiring Judges to Evaluate Whether Texans Can Pay Ticket-Related Fines & FeesTwo bills aimed at ending debtors’ prisons in Texas are headed to Gov. Greg Abbott. Right now, tickets associated with minor offenses, like speeding or having an expired driver’s license, can lead to arrest warrants and jail time for low-income Texans who can’t pay the costs. The cost can mount over time, often resulting in additional tickets, fines, and fees. Despite it being against the law to incarcerate people for the inability to pay fines, HB 351 (Rep. Terry Canales) and SB 1913 (Sen. Judith Zaffirini) aim to alleviate this continuing and devastating problem. HB 351 and SB 1913 would require judges to evaluate whether a person can pay fines and fees, allowing them to delay the payment, set up a payment plan, substitute community service or waive the costs. The bills also expand community service options and require judges to evaluate whether a person cannot pay if they remain in custody for fine-only offenses for more than 48 hours.

Do “Seeds” and “Payday Lending” Have Anything In Common?

The short answer is “no.” But that didn’t stop a last-minute attempt to use a bill related to local control over seeds (SB 1172) as a vehicle to effectively pre-empt local ordinances across the board, from the successful city movement to rein in payday and auto title lending abuses, to zoning, to any number of issues under the realm of city jurisdiction. A move lateFriday in Conference Committee could have enabled any state licensee to sue a city if they don’t like an ordinance. Planted in the Agriculture Code, it was a stealth effort to adopt harmful language that didn’t make it through the legislative process on its own. Broad-based opposition to the language from an array of voices successfully thwarted the attack. This late-hour attack was the latest in a session where stopping pre-emption of local ordinances became the primary focus of the statewide movement to reform usurious payday and auto title lending.  Two direct and two indirect attacks were stopped earlier in session due to an influx of outreach to legislative offices from concerned people and organizations.

Former Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick launched an important effort on the House Floor to amend his payday and auto title reform bill to another bill being considered.  Though the effort was not successful, it highlighted the need for reform in Texas and demonstrated meaningful support for reform among members of the Texas House of Representatives. One positive bill did make it through the process, HB 2008 (Rep. Scott Cosper), which affirms the authority of the Texas Consumer Credit Commissioner to enforce the federal Military Lending Act, a 36 percent rate cap for all credit to the military and military dependents. Beyond payday and auto title lending reform, supporters of fair lending were able to defeat two bills that would have raised the cost of credit for Texas families.

Other News…

Two measures were adopted that support Texas Appleseed’s priorities to combat elder financial abuse and improve access to justice for Texans who represent themselves in court.

  • HB 3921 (Rep. Tan Parker) removes barriers for financial institutions and securities dealers to hold transactions when financial abuse is suspected.  If front-line staff are appropriately trained and made aware of the new tool, it will help Texans by stopping fraudsters, scammers, and abusers before they get access to the money of their targeted victims.
  • SB 1911 (Sen. Zaffirini) requires that certain legal self-help information be posted online and in the court clerk’s office. With an estimated 80 percent of low- and moderate-income Texans who enter our civil court system doing so without legal representation, the new requirement will ensure that more people have access to reliable legal information in their time of need. The bill also allows funds from the county court library fund to be used to establish and maintain a self-help center to provide resources to county residents.

Stay tuned for future updates as we continue to monitor what unfolds, as laws are implemented and debates continue.

By DEBORAH FOWLER
Executive Director of Texas AppleSeed