New laws could impact the Black community in a positive way

ROBYN H. JIMENEZ | 7/17/2017, 1:28 p.m.
Each year, the 150-member Texas House of Representatives and 31-member Texas Senate gather in Austin during the Texas Legislative Session ...
State Representative Eric Johnson takes a break during the 85th Legislative Session. – Photo courtesy of Johnson’s office Texas House of Representatives

The Dallas Examiner

Each year, the 150-member Texas House of Representatives and 31-member Texas Senate gather in Austin during the Texas Legislative Session to discuss and vote on bills that govern Texas.

During the 85th legislative session, State Rep. Eric Johnson of District 100, which includes parts of Dallas and Mesquite, authored 32 house bills and co-authored or joint- authored 23 house bills.

“I never really counted. I think what’s more important is what you can get through, and that’s always hard in the Texas Legislature,” Johnson said. “The system is designed to kill bills, not pass them, so I focus on what I can get across the goal line not so much what I can file.”

During the recent session, the House and the Senate filled 10,672 bills, while the governor signed only 1,091 bills – five of which were authored or co-authored by Johnson with the hope of making the greatest possible positive impact on Texas.

Making an impact

“When I think about impact, I tend to think about how many people you’re going to affect,” Johnson said, explaining that a bill that affects the entire state would be more impactful than one that that affected only a certain part of the state.

He went on to explain that he also looks at how significant of a change it would make in the law is it and how much of that change will impact people’s lives.

“So by those two standards, I would say the most impactful bill of the whole session that I passed, and that I filed frankly, was House Bill 674, which bans the out-of-school suspension of any children second grade and below,” he said about the bill signed into law June 12. “The reason that’s important is because it’s statewide – that’s every child – Black, Brown, White, rural, urban, it doesn’t matter. If you’re a public school child in Texas and you’re under the third grade, you cannot be suspended out of school except for the most extreme cases that federal law requires us to do something about.”

Johnson listed three exceptions to the new law, stating that the federal government controls discipline in regard to students caught with firearms, controlled substances and participating in violent behavior that harms another person.

“But short of that, in our public schools … our teachers are going to need to work with our kids and implement what we call ‘restorative practices’ and ‘alternative forms of discipline’ that doesn’t involve sending the child home,” Johnson continued. “That’s pretty significant, because we know, statistics tell us – its not a guess, it’s a fact – African American boys are suspended at rates that far out stride any other group. Nobody gets suspended more than African American boys in our public schools. And that’s important. I mean, even at the pre-K level we are already seeing 4-year-old children … we can already start to see Black boys being treated differently.”

Johnson said that those statistics were important because pre-K suspensions could lead to later grade suspensions, which could lead to later grade expulsions, then to later grade dropouts and on to incarcerations.