5 Best & Worst Moments of the 2023 Texas Legislative Session

If the 88th Session were a drag queen, her name would be Miss D’Opportunity.

Starting with an unprecedented $32.7 billion budget surplus and plenty of promises from teacher pay raises to grid fixes, the Republican majority led the session off the rails with multiple scandals and infighting, peaking with the overwhelming vote to impeach corrupt Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton just days before sine die.

Because of their misplaced priorities, including a cruel focus on attacking LGBTQ+ Texans, the Republicans in disarray missed the opportunity to save and improve our lives with legislation to clarify abortion medical emergency exceptions, provide a much-needed raise for teachers, end handouts for big polluters, or raise the age limit for military-style rifle purchasers.

This session Texans showed up, progressive lawmakers heard them, and used their power to try to stop the worst bills from becoming law, and created bipartisan coalitions resulting in wins that have been a long time coming, including progress towards period equity and protections for natural hair in schools and workplaces.

Here are our top 5 best and worst moments of the 2023 legislative session.

The Best

1. Medicaid coverage extended to 1 year for new moms
Expansion has been the top recommendation from the state’s committee on maternal mortality. Rep. Toni Rose’s HB 12 comes just in time as some Texan moms are losing coverage through the cancellation of a COVID-19 era protection. Postpartum coverage currently expires after only two months.

2. Natural hair like braids, locs, twists, and knots protected
Texas joins 20 other states in passing the CROWN Act, civil rights legislation to protect students and employees wearing natural hair styles from discrimination. Rep. Rhetta Bowers, the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, Black officials, and advocates had brought the legislation in previous sessions. Rep. Rhetta Bowers filed the legislation again, and Governor Abbott has signed it. CROWN is an acronym for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair. 

3. Gun safety legislation advances
In Texas, 18-year-olds can buy weapons of war, but not Lone Star Beer. Uvalde Rep. Tracy King’s Raise the Age Act could have saved the lives of 19 children and two educators at Robb Elementary School by raising the age to buy an AR-15 military-style rifle in Texas from age 18 to 21.

Something rare happened at the Texas State Capitol, as the meaningful piece of gun safety legislation was voted out of the Select House Committee on Community Safety by Democrats and Republicans. The common sense legislation did not proceed further, but the progress made wouldn’t have been possible without the mobilization of thousands of supporters, working with Uvalde families. 

4. “Pink tax” eliminated
The fourth time was the charm for Rep. Donna Howard’s bill to eliminate sales tax on period products and essential family care items like diapers, wipes, and breast pumps. Howard, in partnership with the Texas Menstrual Equity Coalition, built a nonpartisan coalition around the medical necessity issue, and the final House approval came during Period Poverty Awareness Week. 

5. Expulsion of Rep. Bryan Slaton
For the first time in nearly 100 years, the Texas Legislature expelled a member, Republican Bryan Slaton, in a unanimous vote. An internal investigation determined that he had sex with a 19-year-old aide after getting her drunk. Lawmakers questioned her ability to consent.


The Worst

1. Bans on trans Texans
Trans Texans and their allies packed the Capitol this session fighting for their lives. Despite Republican claims that parents are the chief decision makers for their children, the House and Senate passed SB 14, which robs Texas parents of the power to make lifesaving healthcare decisions for their children.

Medical decisions are private, and should be made with the consultation of doctors, not governors.

2. Abortion bans remain
In March, five Texas women and two Texas obstetrician-gynecologists sued the State of Texas with the help of the Center for Reproductive Rights seeking clarity to Texas' "emergency medical" exceptions under its extreme abortion bans. Since then, others harmed by the bans have joined suit. Even Republican Texas Senator John Cornyn has suggested that plaintiff Amanda Zurwaski should not have been forced to wait for an abortion until she went into septic shock, but Republicans did not act. Senator Carol Alvarado’s SB 123 was never heard in committee. 


3. Local control takeovers
Efforts by Republican lawmakers to undermine the authority of local elected officials in our major cities (which are a majority Democratic) is not new, but this year, bluster intensified with real consequences.

The partisan escalation from Governor Abbott and Texas Republican lawmakers includes the Houston ISD takeover, takeover bills for local elections, removal of local prosecutors who choose not to pursue certain crimes, and super-preemption of local ordinances including environmental protections.

4. Vigilante bounty-hunter border force
The “Texas Border Force” AKA the “Border Protection Unit” would have created a new police force to patrol the state’s border, allowing everyday citizens to terrorize asylum seekers they interact with. The unit would have been overseen by the Texas Rangers, a division of the Texas Department of Public Safety. Differences were not resolved by the House and Senate, and Gov. Abbott has listed “border security” as a top priority of his first special session.

5. Subsidies for polluters
HB 5 provides for abatements on school taxes for new manufacturing facilities. The bill allows polluting petrochemical and liquid natural gas plants to receive tax breaks, but excludes renewable energy and batteries from participation. Senate amendments made the program less expansive, and more accountable than its controversial predecessor, the “Chapter 313 program.” Bad for schools, taxpayers, and the environment.