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John M. Crisp: The worst thing about 3 bad Texas laws
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John M. Crisp: The worst thing about 3 bad Texas laws

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When your home state is prominent in the headlines, it’s usually not a good thing.

Tell me about it: I live in Texas.

Texas’s current notoriety derives from its recent passage of three bad laws: Senate Bill 1, Senate Bill 8 and House Bill 1927. Collectively, they mean: less voting, less reproductive freedom and more guns.

These laws reflect unfavorably on Texas, but in defense of my state — my family moved here in the 1840s — do note that similar laws have been proposed and implemented in many other states, as well. And while this law-making mischief is mostly homegrown, Texans don’t hold a monopoly on legislative malfeasance.

In fact, Texas bestows enormous power on its lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, who was a primary driver behind these laws. He was born in Baltimore. The third-most-prominent statewide office belongs to Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has vowed to defend these laws. He was born in North Dakota.

But that’s no excuse.

SB 1: This is another of those election laws that many red states are trying to implement based on the persistent lie that the 2020 election was stolen. Among other provisions, it puts an end to drive-thru or 24-hour voting.

During the pandemic, Harris County (Houston) discovered that it could facilitate voting by making those options available. For Republicans, alas, many who used these methods turned out to be voters of color. So SB 1 puts an end to that, even though there is no evidence of significant voter fraud in Texas or elsewhere.

SB 8: This law bans abortions in Texas after about six weeks, a clear violation of the constitutional right established by Roe v. Wade in 1973. According to a 2018 Quinnipiac poll, 62% of Texans support Roe v. Wade.

SB 8 makes no exceptions for women who are victims of rape or incest. Not to worry: Gov. Greg Abbott said last week that he is going to “eliminate all rapists” from Texas. If he misses a few, there’s a six-week grace period on pregnancies from rape. But as soon as the rape is over, the clock starts ticking.

HB 1927: This law says that just about anyone in Texas can carry a gun just about anywhere. No license is required, nor is training or any demonstration of proficiency. Like SB 8, this law does not reflect the wishes of most Texans. In May a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found that 59% oppose unlicensed carry, and 46% favor more strict gun laws. So much for the will of the people.

SB 1, SB 8 and HB 1927 are bad in their individual ways. Taken together they create and encourage an extremely un-American and dangerous mindset.

For example, SB 1 increases the powers of so-called poll watchers, while increasing penalties for elections officials. Seriously, do you want a burly white man — and it will be a man — who has been duped by the "Big Lie" looking over your shoulder when you vote?

SB 8 contains an unprecedented provision that confers responsibility for its enforcement on private citizens, who are empowered to collect $10,000 plus court costs for suing anyone remotely connected to an illegal abortion in Texas, which now is nearly all of them.

And supporters of HB 1927 like to talk about more freedom to carry guns in public in terms of personal protection. But when you see tough-looking men in camouflage brandishing military-style semi-automatic weapons at rallies and protests, you know that they are not thinking about protecting themselves. They’re projecting power, coercion and intimidation.

The subtext of all this bad legislation is that the social contract has failed and that responsibility for order and law enforcement has devolved to private citizens. All three Texas laws embody elements of vigilantism, coercion and the force of the minority over the majority.

It’s naïve to think that Jan. 6 was a one-off. The bad ideas that inflamed it are finding their ways into legislation. Next time, the insurgents will feel even more emboldened. And they’ll probably be better armed.

John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Georgetown, Texas, and can be reached at jcrispcolumns@gmail.com.

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