Here we are in June, and it feels like the 2021 legislative session ended just yesterday! In honor of the Juneteenth holiday, I’d like to start off my session recap series talking about the legislation we passed this session to improve equity and racial justice in our state. I look forward to seeing continuing change and healing for impacted communities. Below I’ll share just a handful of the many great bills that were signed into law this year.
This year the Legislature made June 19 an official state holiday, Juneteenth, which recognizes the date in 1865 when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, learned that they had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier. This community was among the last to be informed of their liberation from slavery.
By making Juneteenth a state holiday, we acknowledge the atrocity of the institution of slavery and celebrate its end. But perhaps more importantly, it’s a way we can join together and acknowledge the folks who were freed, and how our government, systems, institutions and people continued to oppress Black and African American people after 1865. I hope this can be a first small step toward healing and reconciliation.
We made significant progress this session in enacting policies to improve oversight, accountability, and practices for law enforcement in our state, including legislation that mandates the independent investigation of serious officer-involved incidents, especially when deadly force is involved (HB 1267). We also passed legislation that establishes comprehensive statewide reporting and publication for use-of-force incidents (SB 5259) to increase transparency about what is happening and to whom.
Other successful police reform legislation focused on harmful police practices, banning the use of chokeholds, neck restraints, no-knock warrants, and shooting at moving vehicles, as well as placing restrictions on the acquisition of military equipment, the use of canines, and the use of tear gas (HB 1054). We also established clear standards about when to intervene and report when fellow officers use force unjustly (SB 5066).
Justice System Reform
HB 1088 builds transparency and accountability in the criminal legal system by toughening the rules about when information about an officer’s misconduct that affects their credibility must be disclosed, improving the truth-finding function of our legal system.
In response to law enforcement’s longtime practice of disproportionately questioning youth of color unnecessarily, HB 1140 requires any person under 18 be given access to consult with an attorney when stopped by law enforcement before they waive any constitutional rights.
Equity and Inclusion in Education
SB 5044 will require that K-12 school board directors, teachers, and other school staff receive regular training on cultural competency, diversity, equity and inclusion. We brought that same idea into public institutions of higher learning, requiring them to provide professional development programs for faculty and staff with the purpose of eliminating structural racism against all races and promoting diversity, equity and inclusion (SB 5227).
All our progress around equity and racial justice must not end with this legislative session and I’m committed to continuing this work in the long term. I want to hear what you think about these and other issues affecting our community. My office will continue to welcome your thoughts and concerns, so please let us know what issues are important to you and your community.
Keep an eye out for the next issue of my legislative session recap series, where I’ll share even more about the Legislature’s accomplishments this year!
Sen. Claire Wilson