From the Inbox, thanks to State Senator Jose Rodriguez, Chairman of SHC:
Austin – Leaders of the Senate Hispanic Caucus (SHC) and the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus (MALC), along with grassroots, business, and subject matter leaders from Latino/a communities across Texas, announced the results of a year-long effort to identify policy priorities in five key areas.
“Members of the Latino/a communities across Texas expressed a consensus around the areas of education, health care, economic opportunity, immigration, and civic engagement,” said Senator José Rodríguez, Chairman of the SHC. “As our state’s former demographer, Dr. Steve Murdock, has warned us for years, if we continue to ignore the needs of the Latino and other minority communities in this state, we ignore the future of Texas at our own peril.”
Hundreds of people attended the six SHC regional Latino/a summits, which took place over the course of 2014 in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, and the Rio Grande Valley.
“It was statewide, and it was non-partisan,” said Senator Garcia, Vice Chair of the SHC. “We have heard our community, and we are taking our marching orders seriously. We are prepared to work hard on both defense and offense. I can promise you we will keep fighting to ensure our voices are heard regardless of what is to come.”
State Rep. Mary Gonzalez, on behalf of MALC, said: “Texas is at a crossroads. We can embrace our opportunity to keep Texas great into the future… This is called a Latino/a agenda, but this is really a Texas agenda.”
“The Latino/a population in the state of Texas is greater than the population of every state in our union with the exception of six. In Texas, there is no such thing as an issue that is not a Latino/a issue. For the first time, you see a unity among Latino/a organizations and elected leaders,” said Joe Cardenas of HOPE, Hispanics Organized for Political Education.
Highlights of the report, which can be found on the Senate Hispanic Caucus’ website include:
- In the education arena, the Latino/a community overwhelmingly supported fixes to the school finance system, bilingual education programs, greater access to higher education, and ending the use of high stakes standardized testing. “The taskforce talked to 70 organizations involved in education at the federal, state and local levels, as well as to individuals in business and administration, classroom teachers and parents, and grassroots leaders. Once we went through the problems they shared with us, we came up with overarching themes. School finance was number one for everybody,” said Dr. Patricia Lopez, education taskforce co-chair. She added, “The SHC agenda gets at the heart of the problem in public education and higher education.”
- In the area of health care, the biggest priority was improving access to care. As Anne Dunkelberg, Associate Director at the Center for Public Policy Priorities and taskforce chair stated, “…there was really an insistence across the board that the first issue of concern was closing the coverage gap in Texas, which essentially leaves over one million uninsured U.S. citizen adults without an option for affordable coverage because they’re excluded from the A.C.A.’s marketplace and excluded by our legislature’s choices from Texas Medicaid. That’s affecting our economy by denying us an estimated $6 to $8 billion a year in additional federal health care revenue and anywhere from 200,000 to 300,000 jobs that Dr. Ray Perryman and Billy Hamilton have estimated would be created if we moved forward with closing that coverage gap.” There was also strong support for programs and incentives to increase the number of health care providers in border and rural areas. The recommendations included the utilization of promotoras, advanced practice nurses, and physician assistants.
- On the immigration front, there was passionate support for keeping in-state tuition for Texas Dreamers and opposition to Arizona-style local enforcement of immigration laws. There was also strong support for greater access to driver’s licenses, or permits to a lesser extent, to create safer roads for all. “We’ve worked with educators, administrators, business, and faith-based groups who say we need to capitalize on the investment we’ve made in the people who are and will continue to contribute to our state,” said MALDEF Attorney Celina Moreno, taskforce co-chair.
- In terms of creating more economic opportunities for working Latino/a families, participants supported reforming predatory lending practices, raising wages, and incentives for college and saving programs. As Rene Lara with AFL-CIO and taskforce co-chair said, “Texans need a pay raise, and Latino/a workers in Texas need a pay raise. It’s that simple.” Ann Baddour, Senior Policy Analyst at Texas Appleseed and taskforce co-chair, added, “When all of our communities thrive, we all thrive.” In discussing income disparity, Baddour emphasized that “businesses need mentorship and access to capital.”
- Perhaps most importantly, discussions about civic engagement in the Latino/a community focused on more opportunities for voter registration and less obstacles to voting, including online voter registration, reducing restrictions on deputy volunteer registrars, expanding the acceptable forms of photo identification at the polls, and incorporating civic engagement and registration processes at high schools across the state. Lydia Camarillo, Vice President of Southwest Voter Registration Education Project and taskforce chair, underscored, “Voting is not only an American value, it is a right we must fight for.”
Additional background information:
During the October 2013 Latino Summit in Austin, the Senate Hispanic Caucus (SHC) and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC) assembled five taskforces in the areas of education, health care, civic engagement, immigration, and economic opportunities. During the latter half of 2014, the SHC hosted six regional summits in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, and the Rio Grande Valley. At these regional summits, educators, community activists, students, civic leaders, and service providers were given an opportunity to provide feedback on the recommendations made by the SHC taskforces. The discussions were meaningful and added significantly to the development of a Latino/a policy agenda informed by the community.