Marijuana reform, voting rights among 5 bills to watch in Texas Legislature

The 87th Texas Legislature is about to kick off come 2021.

Based on some of the bills filed, legislators have already set the tone for what pieces of legislation will cause the biggest debates in Austin. Long have Democrats sought to legalize recreational use of marijuana and expand voting rights for disenfranchised Texans. Both will be up for discussion again this year.

NEW LEADER: Meet the Houstonian making voting better in Harris County

Here are those and other bills to watch when the legislature convenes in January.

George Floyd Act

George Floyd, a former Houstonian, was killed by Minneapolis polic in May when officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly 8 minutes.

His death outraged Americans and led to the indictments of four officers. The killing ignited a recharged Black Lives Matter movement that saw protests across the country – including here in Houston.

The George Floyd Act, House Bill 88 and Senate Bill 161, was written and filed by members of the Legislative Black Caucus. The bill would overturn qualified immunity, meaning victims of police brutality are able to use the civil court system to seek justice.

The bill would also require officers to render aid to anyone hurt by police, as well as intervene if a fellow officer is making a Civil Rights violation.

Marijuana decriminalization

Several bills aim at decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana use and possession, but none appear to go farther than House Bill 447, according to an analysis from the San Antonio Express-News staff.

The bill would allow anyone to possess marijuana for their personal use, up to 2.5 grams of marijuana and up to 15 grams of concentrate. It also says landlords would be unable to ban marijuana consumption, except for smoking.

Texans would also be allowed to grow up to 15 marijuana plants on their property, so long as it’s hidden and locked away.

Cities and counties could also designate areas for people to smoke in public.

Voting with a felony

Texas law currently states that anyone convicted of a felony cannot vote until their sentence is complete – including people on probation or who have been paroled from prison.

House Bill 161 and Senate Bill 187 would change the law to state those convicted of a felony can vote as long as they’re not incarcerated, meaning those on probation or parole would be able to vote.

Flood info for renters

Texas landlords are not required to tell renters if their home has ever flooded.

While the building is owned by the landlord, renters can stand to lose their possessions and peace of mind not knowing what they could face as tenants. That’s why Houston-area Rep. Armando Walle filed House Bill 531, which would require such a notice.

I wrote about the bill last week.

“It doesn’t stop anybody from renting the place,” Walle told Houston Public Media’s Jen Rice. “It’s just ‘Hey, here’s notification. Here’s a warning of where you’re wanting to rent a home.'”

Other voting rights

Several states allow voters to register on Election Day – but not Texas.

House Bill 712 would allow just that. Voters would fill out a provisional ballot and fill out paperwork with a registrar onsite, if the bill becomes law.

Other bills include House Bill 49, which would allow straight-ticket voting once again. House Bill 58 would let prospective voters who are 17 register to vote earlier if they’re 18 by Election Day.

House Bill 66 would make certain election days a state holiday.

Did we miss anything? Share your suggestions with me on Twitter (@JayRJordan) or send an email.

Jay R. Jordan