The number of people having babies dropped during the first year of the pandemic, accelerating a nationwide trend. And the latest data tells us that while birth rates rose very slightly in 2022, it wasn’t enough to recover the drop from earlier years.
According to a poll from the Pew Research Center in 2021, 56% of childless adults who said they’re unlikely to have children gave the reason that they just don’t want to have kids. Other given reasons included medical concerns, financial concerns and climate change.
There are several bills going to committee this week at the Legislature aimed at making it easier to have a baby in Texas.
Sergio Martínez-Beltrán, who covers politics for the Texas Newsroom, said part of the reason these bills are being raised now is because of the state’s near-total abortion ban, which went into effect last August.
“The whole point of some of these bills that we’re seeing in the Legislature this year would be to try to support potentially new parents and adoptive parents in this state,” he said. “Abortion is banned in Texas. So parents are forced to have a kid. So then the state is coming in and trying to support them so they can thrive here.”
There are two bills on the schedule this week. The first, House Bill 300, would exempt pads, tampons and baby diapers from the state sales tax. The second, Senate Bill 222, would establish paid parental leave for state employees. It was sponsored by Sen. Robert Nichols, a Republican who represents Jacksonville, and has several Democratic co-sponsors.
“He has said, you know, if this were to become law, talented people would be attracted to working for the state government,” Martínez-Beltrán said. “In an editorial he wrote for the Lufkin Daily News last year, Senator Nichols said he believes that parental leave should not be a luxury for the highest-paid workers. He also said the state government should lead by example and begin to offer paid parental leave to all state employees.”
HB 300 was introduced by Sen. Donna Howard, a Democrat who represents Austin, and also has bipartisan support.
“This particular bill also has the support of Speaker Dade Phelan, because it’s one of his priorities,” he said. “A big bill carried by a Democrat supported by the Republican speaker of the Texas House in a time where we barely see bipartisanship – this is pretty huge.”
Martínez-Beltrán said he thinks both bills have a good chance of passing both chambers this session.
“The environment we live in, I think that is playing a big role here. As I mentioned earlier, abortions are severely limited. And in Texas, Democrats have been saying that if the state is going to be truly pro-families, they have to provide additional resources for families to actually thrive in the state,” he said. “I think that message from the Democrats has definitely resonated with some Republicans, including Senator Nichols.”
Martínez-Beltrán said there’s another bill – introduced by a group of Democrats – to watch out for also taking on the issue of parental leave.
“Democrats have said they want to go even beyond state government. So they filed a bill that would provide parents in the private sector with up to $1,000 in replacement wages per week of absence,” he said. “This would apply to parents of newborns and adoptive parents. And again, they say that this would support families in this state and also make the state even more attractive for potential employers.”