Austin Tech Alliance’s policy and advocacy focus supports using technology as a tool to help address civic challenges and promote tech-forward policies. We published legislative priorities at the start of the 87th Texas Legislative Session and shared additional bills we support and oppose after the bill filing deadline. Here’s a summary of how the session wrapped up in relation to our priorities.
Two pieces of our priority legislation passed out of the legislature and have been signed by the Governor! The most notable good outcome from our priority legislation to close the digital divide is HB 5. This bill creates a State Broadband Development Office that will create and adopt a State Broadband Plan within a year. This legislation directs the office to create a broadband development program, establishes a funding account for financial incentives to expand broadband access and adoption, directs the office to create and publish a map that identifies access and speeds. Texas currently has nearly 9 million people without access to broadband plans. This bill targets broadband access, adoption and use to close the digital divide; the legislation is effective immediately.
SB 530, which is the Senate companion bill to HB 818, was sent to the Governor on May 19 and will be a law effective September 1, 2021. This bill closes a gap in the harassment Penal Code by creating a criminal offense for harassment published on an internet website that causes distress, abuse, or torment to another person. We’re glad that this priority was successful during the 87th session to ensure that Texans stay safe online.
The Texas legislative process is designed to kill bills, not pass them. Only 15% of filed legislation in the 87th session became law. The following priorities were never heard in committee:
- HB 557, which would have created state-funded STEM Education Scholarship Program
- HB 57, which would increase civic education requirements for Texas Primary Schools
HB 584, which would automatically register voters when receiving a driver’s license or state ID through DPS
HB 3860 / SB 1540, which would add veteran status, sexual orientation, and gender identity to Texas’ existing employment and housing nondiscrimination laws.
HB 244, which would create a grant program to fund teacher education and professional development in coding and technology, went a bit farther than the other dead bills. After a committee hearing in the House Committee on Education and subsequent favorable committee vote, this priority legislation passed the House after barely making the deadline, but did not receive a hearing in the Senate.
While we are pleased that neither of the bills we oppose made it to the Governor’s desk from the 87th Regular session, both of these priorities might be on the call during the special session that begins on July 8 or additional special sessions this year. Both bills would be harmful for civic participation and inclusion. The omnibus voter suppression bill SB 7 was blocked from passing the House when members of the House Democratic Caucus broke quorum after days of closed-door negotiations that left out the public and Democrats. Social media censorship bill, SB 12, died in the House at the deadline for advancing Senate bills. This would have allowed Texans to sue social media companies for censorship.
We will keep our eyes on the pink granite building on July 8 when legislators return for the first special session of the 87th legislature.