State Rep. Cody Harris talks voting reform, upcoming agenda
Though Texas lawmakers recently ended a second special legislative session, they will go back to work next week for a third to address a five-item agenda announced by Gov. Greg Abbott on Sept. 7.
This is the fourth time this year they will meet.
In a statement regarding the upcoming session, Abbott said this is the Texas Legislature’s opportunity to redraw legislative and congressional districts. This includes redistricting for the Texas House of Representatives, the Texas Senate, the State Board of Education and the U.S. House of Representatives based on recently released census data.
Other agenda items include appropriating funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, legislation regarding transgender athletes in University Interscholastic League competition, legislation regarding COVID-19 vaccine mandates and exceptions and legislation regarding Senate Bill 474 relating to unlawful restraint of dogs.
Walkouts by Democrats during the previous sessions caused a break in quorum three times in an effort to thwart legislation which they said restricted voting rights of Texans. That legislation, Senate Bill 1, was signed into law on Sept. 7.
State Representative Cody Harris (R-Palestine) sat down to discuss what the lawmakers accomplished, like the passage of the voting reform bill, from the previous session as well as what is to come in the next round.
The election integrity law and abortion bill were at the top of Harris’ list.
Harris, who originally filed a standalone bill to require some type of identification for mail-in ballots at the beginning of the 87th session, was pleased to have that added to the bill which has since become law.
Opponents cried foul asserting the requirement for identification for a mail-in ballot was unfair. Harris pointed out that the law makes allowances for expired identification or if an applicant does not have a driver’s license or an issued social security number, the applicant must simply write out a statement saying they have not been issued either of those.
Another point of contention was the 24-hour voting timeframes being reduced.
Harris said the reduction is only curbing hours which were originally extended in pandemic circumstances.
“Their starting point is last November when the elections administrator for the first time on his own expanded it to 24-hour voting,” Harris said. “It’s the first time it’s ever been done in the state. That is the starting point that they are all going to, saying we are reducing hours.
“So if that is their argument, we did it because of covid, we are in a pandemic, they should still have the freedom to do that. If they are genuine in that argument, wouldn’t the voting places, the polling places that have 24-hour access be all throughout Harris County and not just in heavily Democrat precincts?”
As for the state law that bans most abortions, the Justice Department has now brought suit in federal court citing it as unconstitutional.
Prior attempts to curb abortions have largely failed and the new law has what is considered an unusual workaround.
“The courts have to have time to get their minds wrapped around it,” Harris said.
He calls this bill the single greatest accomplishment of his legislative career.
“For the first time since 1973, abortion clinics have ceased operating in the state of Texas. Added together with all the other major reforms we have put in place, Texas has drawn a line in the sand and wholly rejected the far left ideology of California and Washington D.C. Texas is leading the way, and we will continue to do so.”
“Traditionally the enforcement mechanism has been the state enforcing it on clinics and doctors,” Harris said. “Courts would step in and issue an injunction against the attorney general, a state agency from enforcing the law.
“It doesn’t negate the law, but it prohibits enforcement of the law. With the heartbeat bill, the enforcement mechanism lies with each citizen.
Checks for retired teachers
Harris also applauded the approval of the 13th check for retired teachers. He said this was near the top for him on important achievements. The supplemental payment will give retired teachers, school staff and counselors a one-time payment to help with cost of living increases.
Funding for foster care
The legislature passed a funding boost to help with the shortage which left children living in places like Child Protective Service offices.
“Children in foster care had been taken into CPS custody and they were sleeping in offices and police stations because we didn’t have enough staff or foster care homes to place the kids,” Harris said. “It was largely a funding issue.”
Increasing border security funding
The Texas House added nearly $2 billion in funding to aid in border security.
Harris said this is where state law makers are doing a job they should not have to do.
“It’s kind of a patchwork,” he said of the efforts to shore up the Texas border. “We are doing everything we can from a state level when it’s not our job to do it.
“There is a prison facility...we are converting to a detention center for people the state are arresting on criminal trespass and these are violent offenders, human traffickers. We are trying to get the worst of the worst coming across because there is no way we can get all of them just with state resources we have. Until the federal government does their job we are just poking fingers in the dam.”
“Bail reform, that’s a huge one,” Harris said.
Known as the Damon Allen Act, it requires defendants accused of violent crimes to pay cash to get out of jail. Senate Bill 6 was signed into law Monday.
Violent offenders will no longer be able to get out on what are known as personal responsibility bonds.
“We have seen this over and over in Harris County,” he said. “State trooper Damon Allen was killed on Thanksgiving Day in 2018, in Fairfield. He was shot and killed by someone who had previously been out on a PR bond.”
Social media censorship
Abbott signed this bill which strives to stop social media companies from deleting posts or banning users based on their political opinion. The new law requires those companies with more than 50 million users a month to make clear their content policies and issue an appeals process. Users may now sue the platforms with the Texas attorney general able to file suit on a user’s behalf.
Banning critical race theory
Harris called Senate Bill 3 a clean up to a bill passed in regular session.
“Absolutely we should be teaching about slavery and the history of racism in the United States and the evil of racism in all forms,” Harris said. “What we are saying is you shouldn’t be teaching school children that because they are white they are inherently racist.”
In the new session the primary focus is redrawing districts.
“It’s why we are going back. It is required constitutionally every 10 years,” he said. “We will be drawing state house and senate districts, the state board of ed districts and the congressional seats.
“For instance my population is going from about 185,000 to 195,000 roughly. That’s the target. Meanwhile the population in my four counties has decreased as a whole. In order to get to that 195,000 I have got to pick up counties around us to add to my district. Meanwhile, everybody else around me needs to grow as well. That’s where the friction comes from.
“The ultimate goal is for everything to be fair and by the book.”
American Rescue Plan Act appropriations
So far Harris said committee leaders have been looking over numbers and options for appropriations in the American Rescue Plan Act.
The federal relief dollars for the state total around $16 billion. There are some questions on when funds will be available and the specific requirements for their allocation.
“This will be a priority for legislators upon their return,” he said.
If passed, this legislation would require transgender athletes to compete in University Interscholastic League competitions on teams related to their gender assigned at birth.
“For whatever reason the left, they take extreme offense to this,” Harris said. “The education groups don’t want us to do it. The NCAA weighed in and don’t want us to do it, said they wouldn’t bring any national competitions if we instituted this law.
“To me, and I think to the majority of people in rural areas like ours, this is a no-brainer. Boys should not be allowed to enter the locker rooms of 13-year-old girls. That is just the way it is.”
Vaccine, mask mandates
Abbott issued an executive order in August prohibiting vaccine mandates by governmental entities or any public or private entity that receives public funds. He previously had ordered no mask mandates could be put in place.
With President Biden’s sweeping announcement last Thursday, there will be more to address at the state level regarding vaccine mandates.
“We cannot sit by and allow President Biden to step so far beyond his constitutional authority,” Harris said. “I am urging Gov. Abbot to add this issue to the next special session’s agenda as the state of Texas is, yet again, forced into a position to stand against the disastrous and abusive policies of the federal government.”
Harris said theoretically they are able to prevent any mask mandates at the government level, but the question comes when it affects businesses.
“I think you get a really good sense of that, especially locally, going to the football games where there are hundreds of people. Eventually people are going to make their own decisions. Stands full of 500 people, you might see 10 people with masks on here. I think this is where it comes down to individual responsibility. You make the decisions to protect you and your family,” he said.