The 19-member Texas Legislative Black Caucus wants to amplify its voice during the coming legislative session. To that end, the group is bringing back its nonprofit foundation in an attempt to develop and advocate members’ bills, and gain support from outside its ranks.
Houston Democratic Rep. Harold Dutton chairs the caucus. He told Texas Standard that the small size of the Legislative Black Caucus makes it important to win the support of other members of the Legislature. To do that, members often need to be persuasive when they speak at the House chambers in front of the microphone.
“We’ve not done enough in terms of talking to people before we get on that front mic, to talk about the issues, and to explain the issues and to research the issues,” Dutton said.
He calls the foundation’s role “front-mic preparation” – giving supporters the information they need to understand and advocate for the legislation members of the Black Caucus offer.
Dutton says many issues, including police brutality, have long been priorities for his members. But the killing of George Floyd, Dallas resident Botham Jean and other Black citizens has made the issue more visible to others, whom Dutton hopes will support Black Caucus-led efforts to pass new legislation to hold law enforcement accountable.
“One of the things that the caucus and the foundation has recognized is that many people – while the caucus talked about these issues before – a lot of people weren’t … interested,” he said. “Part of their disinterest was caused by the fact that they didn’t see what we were talking about.”
Lawmakers have already filed the Botham Jean Act and the George Floyd Act, which are both aimed at police reform.
Dutton said the Black Caucus is not advocating “defunding the police,” but that its members do support more emphasis on non-police activities, like providing mental health services.