AUSTIN, Texas — Tensions ran high in the Texas Capitol this week. Republicans flexed their political muscle, passing several controversial bills. And a new poll shows how those lawmakers' constituents feel about the legislation they are passing.
Three things to know in Texas politics
Year after year, session after session, a bill is filed to allow Texans to carry handguns without a license to carry. And session after session, the bill died – until now.
On Wednesday, the Senate approved House Bill 1927, allowing eligible Texans 21 years old and older to carry a handgun, openly or concealed, without a license. The senators made several changes to the bill during their debate, so the bill heads back to the House where members can accept the changes or request a conference committee to hash out the differences.
Turning to the House, representatives passed the "Texas Heartbeat Act" or Senate Bill 8. The bill makes it illegal to perform an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected. That typically happens at six weeks, before most women even find out they're pregnant.
There is no exception for victims of rape or incest, only if there is a medical emergency. The bill also lets anyone sue a Texas doctor who performs or has the intent to perform an abortion unless they raped or committed incest against the woman.
That last clause was added by the members, so the bill goes back to the Senate for approval.
One of the most debated bills of the session is advancing. After hours of debate, amendments and a point of order that gave the parliamentarians pause, the House passed a sweeping elections reform bill in Senate Bill 7. Democrats strategized ways to remove some of the clauses, but Republicans were able to keep key components of the bill.
The fight, however, is far from over. The bill now heads back to the Senate. The upper chamber's bill was actually gutted and replaced with the House election bill, setting up a fight between the chambers as they race against the clock. There are just three weeks left in the session.
Jim Henson discusses UT-Texas Tribune poll results
The bills lawmakers pass are supposed to represent the views of the Texans they serve. So, how do people actually feel about the bills they're passing? Dr. Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, joined KVUE's Ashley Goudeau to share some insights.
Ashley Goudeau: I think it's always important to explain the methodology behind polling before we talk about the poll results. So, talk to us about how you guys conduct this poll.
Jim Henson: Yeah, sure. This is the 41st or 42nd poll I think we've done in a, in a series of statewide polls in Texas using the same or similar methodology. We conducted the – we gather the data over the, over the Internet, but we use a very careful sampling strategy to get a representative sample of Texans that we weight to make sure it's representative by age and, age, race and gender. We have a 1,200-person sample with a margin of error just under plus or minus 3%."
Goudeau: Obviously, the lege is in session, winding down, [with] about three weeks left. And what did you find people say the lege's top priority should be?
Henson: "Yeah, you know, what we did, we, you know, we've done this different ways across time, but one of the things we've settled on doing during the legislative session is to just ask people in an open-ended question, meaning we don't give them a set of responses, we just say, you know, in a few words, tell us what you think should be the legislature's top priority. And what we got here was really pretty interesting given the climate right now. The overwhelmingly most popular response or most frequent response was either immigration or border security. More than a third of Texans said that.
Only 12% said COVID-19 and that was down a bit from when we asked the last, when we asked this question in our February UT/Texas Tribune poll. And so, COVID-19 at 12% was tied with energy or the power grid, reflecting, you know, the recent unpleasantness, shall we say, in February.
But I think to really understand this you have to drill down just a little bit. So, immigration and border security, you and I have talked about this many times over, over the years, dominates Republican attitudes and Republican interests. And so, in this case, 61% of Republicans said either immigration or border security that – even though most aspects of immigration or border security are federal responsibilities. The top responses among Democrats were COVID-19 and jobs and the economy. But Democrats were much more spread out. So, for example, the top response among Democrats was COVID-19. Only 22% of Democrats said that. So, as we always see, you know, Democrats have – there's a much more dispersal among the, among Democrats in terms of what they think is important. Makes it inherently harder for the Democrats, really."
Goudeau: Let's chat a little bit about some of the bills lawmakers passed this past week. They were quite busy this past week. So, we're going to start with gun laws, right? Guns are always a big topic in Texas. And the Senate passed the House's bill to allow eligible Texans, 21 and older, who are eligible to buy a gun, a handgun, to be able to carry that handgun openly or concealed without a license, without a permit. You found when it comes to gun laws, how do Texans feel?
Henson: "Well, we've asked this, we asked this a couple of different ways that I think are telling. So we, we ask broadly: Do you think – and we've done this several times before – do you think gun laws should be made more strict, less strict or left about the same? A majority of Texans want the laws to be more strict, but it's not a big majority. It's actually, technically, only a plurality of 46%. And about a third of Texans, 30%, want the laws left as they are. Only 20% say they want the gun laws less strict, which is kind of a puzzle on the surface of it when you see such aggressive action in the legislature to make gun laws less strict, as you say. But the key to this, again, is breaking these results down by party.
You know, over an overwhelming number of Democrats, 85%, say that they want gun laws to be more strict. Interestingly, a little more than half of Republicans say they're fine with the way the gun laws are now. And, in Texas, those gun laws are already pretty permissive, even if it seems like they're getting more so. Only about 30% say they want them less strict. And you don't see majority support among Texans for what's being called unlicensed or constitutional carry. You know, little more than 50% of Texans oppose it."
Goudeau: I want to talk about one of the biggest bills heard this week, and that was the election reform bill. Debate starting on Thursday, not finishing until 3 a.m. Friday morning with a vote on an election reform bill. Some see this as an attack on voting rights. Others see this as a way to make elections more secure in our state. What do the people of Texas have to say about it?
Henson: Well, I think people in Texas are, you know, overall as a group, are relatively open to reasonable measures that they think will make elections more secure. We tested several of the more specific policy proposals that are under discussion and some of which are in the legislation that they're battling over in the legislature right now. The most uniformly popular was providing people with a paper receipt or a paper record of how they voted, which I find really fascinating. I mean, I think north of 70% approved of that proposal. You also saw high levels of approval for, you know, another kind of seemingly plausible security measure, like making sure that voting systems aren't connected to the Internet, a kind of digital security message.
Once you get beyond that, you see Texans very familiarly divided over partisan lines, things like eliminating mail-in voting, eliminating or prohibiting counties from sending applications for mail-in voting to their voters, limiting or not permitting drive-thru voting, limiting voting hours. All of those things, you know, find eroded support because Republicans tend to be a bit more divided – though a majority support most of those measures – and Democrats are dead set against it. But we should also point out that when you really get to some of the, you know, the measures that begin to affect access and convenience, like drive-thru voting and limiting voting hours, you begin to see a decent decrease in Republican support as well."
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