Texas legislature finally finishes, leaving trail of wreckage

DALLAS – That long loud shrieking shudder you heard on June 29 was the entire population of Texas breathing their sigh of relief; the legislature had finally ended its reign of terror and gone home! In Texas, we have come to fear for our lives in the early part of every other year, when the ideologues of Austin rip their way through statutory law and common decency.

Many of the atrocities committed against human rights in Wisconsin and other states were not on the docket here, because Texas workers lost those rights many years ago. Texas was probably the first “right-to-work (scab)” state in 1947 and our public employees, unlike Wisconsin’s, never had any bargaining rights to lose. Instead, the legislators tried to cripple the right to organize in other ways: they assaulted democracy, they tried to “out-Arizona” Arizona on the rights of Latinos, they tried to humiliate and torture women who bear unwanted pregnancies, and they threw themselves into the task of gutting children’s education and hopes for a better life.

On the big-ticket item, they succeeded. After all, right-wing Republicans had a big majority in the State Senate and an even bigger 2/3 majority in the House. Even though Republican spokespersons announced that their budget increased the amount spent on education, they also bragged that they had cut it by $4 billion. When Democratic Representative Donna Howard came up with a way to keep $2 billion in the school budget, they quashed her bill. Adding insult to injury, they kept approximately $6 billion in their reserve rainy-day fund while Texas schoolchildren drowned.

Another signal victory for anti-worker legislators came in their two-pronged attack against democracy. Their redistricting efforts face legal challenges before the full effect is felt, but their voter ID attempt to restrict voting with extra requirements was finally passed in 2011 after failing two years before.

The worst of the many anti-worker bills was Representative Tan Parker’s “paycheck deception,” which would have effectively defunded any advocacy and political activity by organized workers. It was beaten back by heroic efforts led by the Texas AFL-CIO . Their United Labor Legislation Committee combined the forces of all the affiliated and non-affiliated unions. They strategized every morning and lobbied every day of the regular and special sessions. Labor’s Legislative Director Rene Lara wrote, “The list of bad bills we killed is long.”

Texas women suffered mightily. The ideologues will force even more man-devised tortures against women. Governor Perry declared that requiring pregnant women to view a sonogram before they could get an abortion was an “emergency item.” The assault against abortion rights even spilled over into birth control cuts!

Another of Perry’s prioritized “emergency items” would have outlawed “sanctuary cities” where, by choice of the population, police may not inquire about immigration status. Thousands mobilized in multiple demonstrations against it. The bill finally collapsed and failed, possibly from exhaustion.

The final effort, dear to the hearts of outspoken “tea partiers,” would have made criminals of the workers charged with searching passengers. The “anti-groping” bill received publicity far beyond its worth and was finally abandoned at the very end of the special session.

The Senate finished their list and left Austin, without even waiting to see what the House would do, and the House finally threw in the towel. Governor Perry missed participating in this particular fiasco because he was in California trying to build support for his presidential bid. Clearly, the disaster that is Texas legislation is now pointed, like a loaded bazooka, at the rest of the United States.

But the AFL-CIO Legislative Director ended his summary with the most fitting question possible, “Are you with us in 2012?”

Photo: Texas AFL-CIO facebook