The Texas Legislature is underway, and some UTA advocates are eyeing a number of bills.
From police conduct to marijuana legislation, reproductive justice to public religious displays, UTA students seek to amend the state’s status quo. Lawmakers have introduced several bills that could impact UTA students and Arlington citizens.
Sociology graduate student Jennifer Wellman said she is in favor of women’s rights and is watching bills relating to abortions.
“It is very important to protect a woman’s right to choose,” Wellman said. “I think that if we start making laws about when a woman can or cannot have an abortion, then we really would limit the rights of women.”
Abortion-related House Bills filed so far include prohibiting abortion at or after 12 weeks post-fertilization and prohibiting abortions after the detection of an unborn child’s heartbeat, according to the bills.
Marysol Esparza, pre-nursing junior and Pro-Life Mavericks president, was at the state capitol over the past weekend to attend a pro-life conference and rally. She said the organization is not a political group, but she recognizes the importance of pro-life legislation.
When asked about women’s right to choose, Esparza said bodily rights are important especially when a woman is pregnant because there is more than one body involved, and an unborn child is a human being who is entitled to their own bodily rights. Life is not something an unborn child can choose, she said.
“It may be inside a woman’s body, but it is a separate human being with its own identity and DNA,” she said.
Other bills Wellman is concerned with relate to the legalization of marijuana, animal rights and policing.
She said the state would gain another revenue source and deal with the issue of policing by legalizing marijuana.
Texas would earn over $1 billion every two years from marijuana sales tax, according to a recent report by Vicente Sederberg LLP, a national cannabis law and policy firm. The state would also save about $311 million per year in criminal justice costs for low-level possession of marijuana offenses.
Wellman said she was privileged enough not to have problems with policing. But she had been made aware of it through education and political movements.
“I am for anything that limits police’s ability to harm others,” she said.
Texas Legislative Black Caucus members, state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, District of Houston and state Sen. Royce West, District of Dallas, have both filed the same bill named the George Floyd Act, in memory of George Floyd, who was killed in police custody last May. It seeks to change the way law enforcement interacts with civilians.
Wellman said she is also keeping an eye on gun and religious bills. House Concurrent Resolution 1 was filed to support prayers, including the use of the word “God” at public gatherings and displays of the Ten Commandments in public educational institutions and other government buildings.
“I’m not a fan of that,” she said. “Not everyone subscribes to Christianity. And I don’t think it has any place in public.”
She had been to the state capital and spoke with legislators in the past. But with the pandemic, she said the only way she would get involved is by calling and writing to elected members.
Reese Surles, UTA’s Turning Point USA chapter president and accounting sophomore, said he is watching House Bill 36, which would abolish the Confederate Heroes Day. He said he would like to see it passed and hopes it is replaced by a holiday acknowledging the Civil War but not glorifying it.
“It’s important that we have something to remind us of the Civil War but not that we idealize the South and the Civil War,” Surles said.
State Rep. Donna Howard filed a bill in the 84th Legislature session to replace Confederate Heroes Day to Civil War Remembrance Day, but the bill died in committee.
Texas Legislative Black Caucus released a press release Jan. 19 to highlight the importance of abolishing Confederate Heroes Day, which is a state holiday on Jan. 19 that immediately followed Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year.
State Rep. Jarvis Johnson, who is the Texas Legislative Black Caucus’ treasurer, filed House Bill 36 on Nov. 9, 2020.
“HB 36 calls for the abolishment of such an insulting state holiday and for white supremacy to be strongly condemned by the state of Texas,” Johnson stated in the press release.
Political science senior Omar Lazcano is an advocate for reproductive justice, and during this session Lazcano is focusing on House Bill 321, which relates to a sales tax exemption for certain feminine hygiene products, or better known as “tampon tax.”
A similar bill was filed in the last session but left pending in the House Committee on Ways and Means, which deals with taxes.
But Lazcano said the bill is gaining momentum, and they are more confident of it being passed this session because of the growth in online activism over the past year.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has impeded public testimony in committee hearings, Lazcano will still attend a virtual one, where concerns will be heard when the bill gets assigned to a committee. The bill will be passed if enough people contact their elected officials, they said.
They said representatives may have different opinions, but one thing all of them have in common is listening when the electorate speaks.
“And so if there’s enough people who can sponsor this bill and who present a desire to see this bill passed, I think that it can change the opinions of some people who might otherwise not support it,” they said.
Lazcano said a relevant comparison for tampon tax would be to food products. Grocery products like eggs, fruits and vegetables are seen as a necessity and are not taxable to make them more affordable to people. Feminine products should be the same.
Passing this bill would not only allow feminine products to be more accessible, but it also opens the possibility to a policy that supports other marginalized people’s rights, Lazcano said.
“We as people who don’t experience the same bodily function have a responsibility to care because it affects us,” they said. “Because it’s our government as well.”
UTA student government focused on voter registration last semester because of the presidential election. The student government agenda this semester will focus on informing the student body on bills that may affect UTA, chief of staff Corrina Sullivan said.
There are still plenty of things to care about besides the presidency; local and state government are important too, Sullivan said.