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Legislation to increase voter registration of 18-year-old students in Texas high schools is among several new measures prefiled by Rep. Canales - Titans of the Texas Legislature

Featured: Edinburg High School graduate Roberto Rocha recently visited his old high school to talk about his latest book “Tamarindo Dreams: A Collection of Barrio Poetry.” The book is a collection of 30 Tex-Mex poems he wrote while growing up in the Rio Grande Valley.



Legislation to increase voter registration of 18-year-old students in Texas high schools is among several new measures prefiled by Rep. Canales

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A proposed state law designed to help increase the number of 18-year-old high school students in Texas to register to vote is among several new measures that were prefiled on Tuesday, December 18, 2018, by Rep. Terry Canales, for action by the 86th Texas Legislature during its upcoming 140-day regular session, which begins on Tuesday, January 8, 2019.

Filing of a bill refers to a measure that has been introduced into the legislative process and given a number.

Prefiling of a bill refers to a measure that has been introduced into the legislative process and given a number before the convening of a legislative session.

Members of the House of Representatives file bills with the Chief Clerk of the House. Senators file bills with the Secretary of the Senate.

The upcoming 86th Texas Legislature returns to work (convenes) for its upcoming 140-day regular session on Tuesday, January 8, 2019.

Canales’ legislation, House Bill 552, would require Texas high schools to make voter registration forms readily available year-round, instead of just twice a year.

“For three decades, public and private high school principals in Texas have been required to distribute voter registration applications to all students who will be 18 years old that school year,” Canales explained. “The law stipulates that students be offered the applications at least twice per year. According to reports, two-thirds of Texas high schools are not following the current state law that mandates giving all eligible students the opportunity to register to vote.”

Without an enforcement mechanism or sufficient outreach by the state, compliance will continue to be poor, he expressed concern.

In 2017, Canales, D-Edinburg filed House Bill 209, which would have required high schools to make voter registration forms readily available year-round. Despite passing unanimously in the Texas House Committee on Public Education, the bill failed to be scheduled for debate and action by the full 150-member Texas House of Representatives.

“This was the very first bill I filed last session (2017) because I believe voter registration and youth political engagement are of paramount importance to the future of this state,” the House District 40 state lawmaker contended. “Texas ranks 47th in voter turnout in this country and we need to change this.”

He said he is working closely with the Office of the Texas Secretary of State, the Texas Civil Rights Project, and the League of Women Voters.

In the Fall of 2017, after the 85th Texas Legislature had finished its work, then-Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos expressed his and Gov. Gregg Abbott’s commitment to support legislation such as HB 290 filed by Canales.

“Our democracy depends on the active participation of young Texans in the electoral process. It is essential that we empower younger generations to make their voices heard through voting,” Pablos said. “To do this, we must first take an active role in ensuring that those who are eligible can and will register to vote.”

The Secretary of State is one of six state officials named by the Texas Constitution to form the Executive Department of the State, according to the state agency’s website. The secretary is appointed by the governor, with confirmation by the Senate, and serves at the pleasure of the governor.


The Office of the Secretary of State in Texas has major responsibilities, including assisting county election officials and ensuring the uniform application of the uniform application and interpretation of election laws throughout Texas.

“Enshrined in the Texas Election Code is a unique provision that requires all high school principals in Texas to serve as deputy voter registrars in their schools,” Pablos said. “In this capacity, the principals are expected to distribute voter registration applications to those students who will be 18 years old by Election Day.

In theory, this arrangement can be a great mechanism for principals to foster civic engagement among their students. But in practice, Texans are seeing a much different picture, he acknowledged.

“Of the estimated 1,434 public high school principals in Texas, less than 200 requested voter registration applications before the 2016 elections,” Pablos said. “That means that only 14 percent of our public high schools took advantage of this important opportunity to help register their students.”

Pablos believes Texans owe it to their children and to their communities to redouble efforts to help increase participation among the newest generation of Texas voters.

“It is our responsibility to make sure that all eligible seniors register to vote,” said Pablos, the 111th Texas Secretary of State who was appointed by Abbott on January 5, 2017, and ended his service effective December 15, 2018. “Our future and the future of Texas depend on it.”

Before serving as Secretary of State, Pablos had undertaken years of public service, including as Chair of the Texas Racing Commission, Public Utility Commissioner, and Honorary Consul to Spain. Additionally, Pablos was the founding CEO for both the El Paso-based Borderplex Alliance and Uriel Americas, a renewable energy company. His career, in both public and private capacities, has been focused on advancing community development projects to improve quality of life, deliver educational opportunities, and help bring prosperity to the people of Texas.

David Whitley was appointed and sworn in as Texas’ 112th Texas Secretary of State by Abbott on Monday, December 17, 2018. Previously, Whitley served as Deputy Chief of Staff and Appointments Director for Abbott. He began working for then-Attorney General Abbott in 2004, serving in various roles including Assistant Deputy Attorney General.

Whitley is a member of the State Bar of Texas and volunteers in the UT Law Mentorship Program. A native of Alice, Texas, he received both his finance and law degrees from the University of Texas at Austin.

Monday, November 12, 2018 was the first day a state lawmaker can introduce any measure into the legislative process and be given a number. State representatives submit legislation, known as a House bill, with the Chief Clerk of the Texas House of Representatives; state senators submit legislation, known as a Senate bill, with the Secretary of the Texas Senate.

State lawmakers can begin submitting their legislative proposals, known as bills, weeks ahead of time, for many different reasons, including letting the public know about the lawmakers’ ideas so Texas citizens can participate in the fate of those measures.

A list that is updated every day of legislation, including amendments, authored, sponsored, co-authored, and co-sponsored by Canales is available online at:

Other measures authored by Canales and introduced (prefiled) on Tuesday, December 18, 2018 for action by the Texas Legislature are:

HB 546

Relating to a study and report by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) on certain training and education requirements for law enforcement officers.

Basic Law Enforcement training for beginning Texas peace officers has not been fully evaluated in almost 40 years. Texas is largely training its law enforcement officers for law enforcement in the 1980’s when the state should be training them for the 21st century. This legislation would require TCOLE to reevaluate basic peace officer training and make recommendations for change to the Texas Legislature.

HB 547

Relating to verification of hunting and fishing license information.

Canales filed HB 547 to allow Texans with hunting or fishing licenses to display these licenses on a smart phone to a Texas game warden. This would allow hunters and fishers to take a picture of a license with their phone and display that picture as proof of a license. If and when the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department develops a digital version of the hunting or fishing licenses, it would also allow for display of a digital license, whether that is a PDF, hologram, app, or any other type of digital license.

This bill would not prohibit paper display of a license but simply expand the options for hunters and fishers to display their license, similar to the way Texans can display their car insurance on their phone.

HB 548

Relating to reporting certain truancy information through the Public Education Information Management System.

Canales filed HB 548 to require Texas school districts to report truancy data to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) for each campus and each grade level. Research shows that missing 10 percent of school days negatively affects students’ academic performance. By 6th grade, chronic absence becomes a leading indicator that a student will drop out of high school. Collecting data regarding truancy will allow the State of Texas to better allocate resources to combat this problem and analyze what can be done from a state level to improve attendance rates.


HB 550

Relating to the expiration of the driver responsibility program.

The program, created in 2003 to generate funding for the state in the face of a budget shortfall, is creating serious financial hardships for Texans. An estimated one million, two hundred thousand drivers have been forced off the road or are driving illegally because they have not been able to pay extreme surcharges and fines.

Canales contends the current program is a form of debtor’s prison. He said is is wrong to take someone’s driver license just because they are not paying a tax. Lawmakers have failed to end it because it is a source of funding for trauma care centers. The program has provided around one-third of the money needed for trauma care. But doing the wrong thing for the right reason is still wrong, he said.

This bill would cut the fines in half in 2021 and do away with them in 2023.

Health officials indicate they will support the repeal of the program if there was another funding source created for trauma.


Edinburg High School graduate Roberto Rocha recently visited his old high school to talk about his latest book “Tamarindo Dreams: A Collection of Barrio Poetry.” The book is a collection of 30 Tex-Mex poems he wrote while growing up in the Rio Grande Valley.

In general, “Barrio” means a Spanish-speaking quarter or neighborhood in a city or town in the U.S. especially in the Southwest.

The Edinburg High School Library Department invited him to talk about his latest book and to help inspire some of the students from the Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District.

“I came to share these poems with the students and the staff,” Rocha said. “Hopefully, encourage somebody to not be afraid, to be creative and to do things that maybe are a little, like I told them, outside the box. Don’t even think about the box. Destroy the box. It’s just you and unlimited potential. If I can do it, anybody can.”

In the book, Rocha’s poems peer into his life and highlight some of the joys and hardships he has encountered with friends and especially his family.

One of the poems Rocha read to the students was titled “Mija”.

In general, “Mija” is a colloquial word for “Mi hija”, my daughter. While it is used by parents to address their daughters, in Mexico it is a term of endearment from someone older, and not necessarily related, towards a younger woman or girl. The same happens for younger men or boys: mijo for mi hijo.

“Mija, I remember the little yellow dress that I bought for you at K-Mart. It was all of the money I had in my wallet and in the world. Seven dollars or something like that. You looked bien mona (cute), preciosa (precious), bonita (beautiful). A true princess you were, have been and remain,” Rocha recited from his book.

The poem “Mija” is about his daughter Cathy. He said the poem is a way of letting her know how special she is to him.

“I just wanted her to know that should anything happen to me and we don’t get a chance to speak before then, I see you as my princess always,” he said.

Rocha’s photograph and biography are on the back cover of his book, indicating that he “is a native of the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas, where most of the inspiration for his writing comes from.”

However, one of the first times that Rocha’s photo appeared in a book goes back to 1986 in his yearbook, when he graduated from Edinburg High School.

“Oh my, let’s see. I haven’t seen this book in ages. Oh yeah, look at that. There I am,” said Rocha, laughing and pointing to his yearbook photo.

While on his book tour at Edinburg High School, Rocha met up with some of the people he graduated with like Robert Peña, Jr., who is the current president for the Edinburg CISD Board of Trustees.

“It really is fascinating to know and see that we have many distinguished people within our community,” Peña said. “For Mr. Rocha to realize his small dream of coming back to give to his Bobcat community is really gratifying.”

Many of the students said that they felt inspired by Rocha’s book of poems.

“It was really inspirational. It actually touched me,” said Isaac Macías, a 10th grader at Edinburg High School. “His story of going back to his old days is an actual experience of what I’m going through right now. It’s really touching.”

“I have never heard of him and I’ve never read his book. But based on the speech that he gave, I’m wanting to read it to see what’s it like and maybe it might teach me a few things about life,” said Adriana Méndez, a 10th grader at Edinburg High School.

Looking back on his own life, what advice would Rocha give himself now?

“I would have told him, ’Don’t be afraid. Don’t make rash decisions. Be patient. Study, study, study, read, read, read, and write, write, write. And, don’t sweat the small stuff,’” Rocha said. “I would tell him to enjoy the moment and don’t try to grow up so fast. Take your time.”

Rocha said that he tells all students that there’s plenty of time to get a good education to better themselves and their families. And, he said that when time allows write it down for all the world to see.

“I read a quote that really inspired me that said, ‘Write the book that you want to read, because sometimes we can’t find what touches our heart and our soul.’ So, if it’s not out there that means that you need to create it,” Rocha said.


Romeo Cantú contributed to this article. Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, represents House District 40 in Hidalgo County, which includes portions or all of Edinburg, Elsa, Faysville, La Blanca, Linn, Lópezville, McAllen, Pharr and Weslaco. He may be reached at his House District Office in Edinburg at (956) 383-0860 or at the Capitol at (512) 463-0426. For more this and other Texas legislative news stories which affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature.


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