New Felony Penalties In Election Payments Would Influence Texans Of Colour, Civil Rights Teams Say – Houston Public Media

The Texas State Capitol

Bills to amend Texas’ electoral law would result in dozens of new criminal penalties, many of which could have a major impact on people of color, according to more than two dozen voting and criminal justice organizations.

The groups, which include MOVE Texas, Progress Texas, ACLU Texas, and the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, signed a letter Monday to Governor Greg Abbott, Governor Dan Patrick, and House Speaker Dade Phelan, asking for their support reconsider the measures.

Analysis of electoral laws at that session by the 26 organizations found that of the 29 organizations that had imposed new criminal sanctions, nearly half of the sentences were directed against election workers and election officials, while restrictions on partisan election observers were lifted.

The analysis also found that House Bill 6 would add the most penalties of all bills originating in the House (25), while Senate Bill 7 would add the most penalties of all Senate origin (7). HB 6 and SB 7 are the collective election laws of the two chambers. Both bills have been passed by the House Election Committee and are shortly awaiting action on the House Floor.

“We wanted to support the lawmakers who opposed these bills and give them something to talk about on the floor of the house,” said Wesley Story, communications manager at Progress Texas. “This gives them some ammunition to use during the debate as they can pull out this letter and say, ‘Over 25 criminal justice and voting organizations have opposed these bills. Why are we pushing them?'”

The groups began compiling the list of bills following a study published by the Texas ACLU in March, which found that since Ken Paxton took office as Texas attorney general, 72% of the electoral integrity unit’s law enforcement actions have been directed against blacks or Latinos were. This report also showed that 45% of all law enforcement actions were against black women or Latinas.

According to the groups, 29 electoral laws at this session contain provisions to criminalize or tighten criminal penalties for 87 different activities, 77% of which are classified as criminal offenses.

Key provisions for the groups included adding a crime from the state prison to provide assistance to a voter who did not request it, and assisting voters who are not eligible for assistance. The groups also pointed to a new criminal offense for election workers, saying it targets those who remove party political election watchers in order to intimidate voters.

“These bills would be devastating to many Texans by criminalizing a variety of conduct that should not be subject to criminal penalties and ultimately preventing voting and participation in elections as both voters and officials,” said it in the letter. “These bills, regardless of intent, are oppressive to the most marginalized communities.”

Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University, said that while he thought that both Republican supporters of the bills and their critics overestimated their cases, those bills were likely to have some impact on voters.

“I don’t think the damage to the bills moving through Texan law would be as dramatic as it is presented, but there would be damage,” said Jillson. “I believe that these Republican bills, moving through state legislatures across the country, would restrict voting and make it difficult for those who choose to vote to exercise their legitimate rights.”

Jillson said the letter may have an impact on the ballot debate, but not as much as pressure from companies opposing these bills.

On Tuesday, a coalition of more than 50 companies, chambers of commerce and heads of state that referred to itself as “Fair Elections Texas” published a letter of their own expressing their opposition to such legislation.

“The question really is, how much public pressure is there on the Republican legislature in trying to restrict voting in Texas,” said Jillson. “When you add civil rights organizations, public interest groups and the corporate world, you start to get pressure. So far, the Republican leadership has resisted its critics in Texan legislation. “

Additional reporting from Paul DeBenedetto.

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