Social Justice: A few lessons from the 2013 Texas legislative session

By Barbara Budde

Columnist

Usually by this point in the summer we would have closed the book on the bi-annual Texas legislative session, but not this year. By the time most of us get this summer edition of the Catholic Spirit, the second special session will be done or in its final days. Let’s review what did and did not happen in this 83rd legislature thus far.

The bishops of Texas identified seven key areas of legislation and tracked them throughout the session: Protecting Human Life; Children and Families, Justice for Immigrants; the Poor and Vulnerable; Health and Human Services; Criminal Justice; and Religious Liberty. By April, they had identified some legislation on issues of particular concern to them. Our bishops invited all Catholics to participate in the political process by advocating with them on these issues: protecting patients’ rights and lives in end-of-life-care; stopping pay day lenders’ exploitation of working Texas families; protecting women’s health and the lives of unborn children; giving Texas families a choice in educating their children; and supporting Medicaid expansion. Unfortunately when the regular session ended, none of the legislation that the bishop’s supported had passed. However, the bishops were not the only ones unsatisfied with the regular session. As soon as the session ended, Governor Rick Perry called a special session to address the questions of redistricting, which was to begin the very next day.

After that special session began, the governor included additional issues to the call for the special session, including one of the bishops’ issues above –– protecting women’s health and the lives of unborn children. In May the Texas Catholic Conference on behalf of the bishops wrote Governor Perry asking that the special session include important pro-life legislations which had not passed during the regular session. They reasoned that the legislation had the votes to pass with the additional time and with the limited scope allowed in special sessions. Within a few days, Senate Bill 5 and House Bill 60 were before the legislature. Unfortunately, the vote came on the last day and Senator Wendy Davis began her filibuster. As most of you probably know, it was not that her filibuster succeeded, but that crowds in the gallery so disrupted the business of the Senate that a vote could not be taken before midnight.

By the time this issue is mailed, the pro-life legislation supported by our bishops will be passed and signed by the governor.

This 83rd legislature has taught us some important lessons. The second special session became necessary because people came to the Capitol. We completely disagree with them on this issue and with the way they behaved, but by showing up in large numbers, they made an impact. We can do that, too! We need to learn from this experience that participation matters.

Please resolve now to step up your participation. If you are not registered to vote, do so. Because of the Supreme Court decision regarding the Voting Rights act, we will all need to show valid identification to vote in the next election, so if you need an ID get one. If you vote all the time, but don’t regularly contact your legislators, begin forming a relationship with those who represent you. Showing up matters, making your voice heard matters, participation matters –– we have seen this and now we need to learn from it!

For more information on Faithful Citizenship, visit www.austindiocese.org/offices-ministries/offices/social-concerns-office/faithful-citizenship. To sign-up for Action Alerts from the Texas Catholic Conference visit www.txcatholic.org/texas-catholic-network.

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