Just over 800 bills have been filed for the 87th Texas Legislative Session, which will begin Jan. 12, including more than 100 education-related legislation.
About 550 bills were proposed Monday, Nov. 9, the first day to file legislation for the upcoming Texas Legislative Session. Proposed legislation includes designating polling places on college campuses, suicide prevention information on student identification cards and the carrying of handguns at higher education institutions.
Holly Ainsworth, a Universitywide representative in UT Student Government, authored the original SG resolution to include crisis information on student IDs in October 2019, which was voted for and implemented into new UT student IDs. Ainsworth said she started talking to state legislators to see if anyone could introduce it for the next session.
“(State legislators) said that it's something that a lot of people agree about across the aisle,” nursing senior Ainsworth said. “Democrats, Republicans, independent parties — they all really want to work on mental health, especially with the pandemic going on.”
Ainsworth said other schools could benefit from the bill because all Texas students would have access to a mental health resource.
“I'm really hoping that they get to pass it because I think that mental health is just super important,” Ainsworth said. “The main challenge was … showing the need for mental health resources and being able to show that to administrators to make sure that they understood that this is something really beneficial.”
State Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, proposed the designation of a polling place at every Texas higher education institution with at least 8,000 students enrolled. The legislation was brought to the representatives by Hook the Vote, a nonpartisan agency with UT Student Government, said Ainsley Dorsey, Hook the Vote co-director.
“These ideas are not new,” government sophomore Dorsey said. “These are things that students have been advocating for for many years now, so we don't claim to reinvent the wheel.”
Dorsey said Hook the Vote’s goal is to get polling places on all colleges and universities in the state.
The debate over carrying handguns on campus will also resume, as State Rep. Terry Meza, D-Irving, filed a house bill for institutions to establish rules and provisions for license holders to carry handguns on campus grounds. State Rep. Kyle Biedermann is planning to file a bill for constitutional carry, which would allow people to carry a handgun openly without a permit.
Selina Eshraghi, director of the March For Our Lives Austin chapter, said they will continue to meet with lawmakers next year to propose new legislation.
“The last legislative session I came into it being bright-eyed and naive,” said Eshraghi, chemical engineering and radio-television-film senior. “I was so ready to pass all these bills. I realize it's a large uphill battle … (but) I'm glad about this conversation we keep having.”
Another education-related bill filed calls for a student loan repayment assistance program for front-line workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. People who would qualify for student loan relief include medical professionals, nurse practitioners, child care workers and military personnel.
H.B. 403 would exempt people experiencing homelessness from tuition and fees at higher education institutions. The bill would go into effect for tuition for the 2022 spring semester.
S.B. 140 would authorize the distribution and sale of cannabis and cannabis products, including marijuana. As of Thursday, six bills have been filed by state representatives relating to the legalization of cannabis.
“Meeting with our representatives was super rewarding and exciting,” Dorsey said. “A dream of mine is to just personally be able to reach out to representatives with my concerns and hopefully get them passed through.”