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In a town hall gathering, State Rep. Diego Bernal told constituents that he did not consider the past legislative session a success but pointed to a few bright spots.
“I wouldn’t be honest with you if I didn’t lay it out for you exactly the way it is,” Bernal said Thursday night. “Anyone who has followed the legislative process for the past 10, 15, 30 years … will tell you that this was one of the worst sessions in history.”
Bernal, the Democratic representative for the 123rd district of Texas, sits on the House Administration, Urban Affairs, and Public Education committees. His district covers much of the San Antonio downtown area and includes northern neighborhoods like Castle Hills.
Although the Legislature failed to pass meaningful school finance reform, Bernal said he was proud to have been involved with Senate Bill 725, legislation affecting schoolchildren statewide who go hungry.
SB 725 is the Student Fairness in Feeding Act, which allows schools to have food pantries on campus and to collect the food that would have been thrown away so long as it complies with standard food safety regulations. Most importantly, the legislation also allows those schools to distribute the food to their students. Bernal also noted that there was no provision that would bar the schools from limiting the distribution solely to children.
“One of the things we discovered was at every school … there are a crop of chronically hungry children,” he said. “At those same schools, they’re throwing away hundreds of pounds of ripe, uneaten, untouched, wrapped, sealed, food.”
“Believe it or not the Governor signed that one,” Bernal said to applause.
He also discussed HB 658, which will allow election officials to usher disabled, elderly, or frail voters to the front of election lines at polling places. He said he had heard stories from community members about voters leaving polling places without having voted due to hours spent waiting outside in lines.
In response to questions from constituents, Bernal discussed how voters could better affect legislative action, sharing ideas on ways to better organize and act to influence change. He noted that the key was finding specific issues on which to focus. While it’s challenging to convince people to switch their political ideologies, he said, it is possible for people to rethink positions on specific issues.
Bernal urged the approximately 65 constituents who attended the meeting to find issues they care about, identify the representative responsible for specific legislation, and reach out to people in the districts they represent. Those individuals could then be urged to communicate to the representatives sponsoring the legislation.
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The Legislature is reconvening July 18 for a special session called by Gov. Greg Abbott and faces a lengthy agenda of unfinished business. Bernal said he was unsure of how his first special session would go, but added that he hoped to find a way to revive school finance reform legislation that died during the regular session.
Bernal was clear about his continued opposition to the “bathroom bill,” one of the items on Abbott’s special-session agenda. Senate Bill 6 seeks to regulate which public restrooms transgender people are permitted to use. The legislation passed the Senate during the regular session but stalled in the House.
“The idea that our priority for us is where people pee, versus how much money we fund our public schools, is an affront to everybody who takes this job seriously,” Bernal said. “The idea that bathrooms are more important than classrooms is an insult to all of us. I don’t know what they’re going to do in the Senate, but it’s not coming through the House. I can almost guarantee it.”