Discrimination on tap

Posted on 18 Nov 2016 at 6:15am

Bill pre-filed in Texas Senate targets rights ordinances; Patrick announces revamped ‘bathroom bill’

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Chuck Smith, CEO of Equality Texas

 

Tammye Nash  |  Managing Editor

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Spanish philosopher George Santayana said it in his book, The Life of Reason, published between 1905 and 1906. And lots of other people have expressed the same sentiment throughout written history.

But it seems some Texas elected officials either have very bad memories, or they just never learn, considering that bills pre-filed this week for consideration in the 2017 session of the Texas Legislature reflect the same kind of anti-LGBT animosity that cost the state of North Carolina millions and Gov. Pat McCrory his job this year.

In March this year, North Carolina’s legislature hastily passed House Bill 2, the so-called bathroom bill, and within hours, Gov. McCrory had signed it into law. The bill prohibits local jurisdictions in that state from enacting anti-discrimination statutes that offer protections not expressly offered by state law, and it prohibits transgender people from using the appropriate public restroom facilities.

By mid-September, North Carolina had already lost an estimated $400 million because of businesses and events that either moved out of the state or changed plans to locate there because of HB 2, according to a report by The Business Insider. And as of Nov. 8, McCrory had apparently lost his job to Democrat Roy Cooper, the state’s former attorney general who opposes HB 2.

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Texas State Capitol

And after then-Gov. Mike Pence, now the vice president-elect, signed the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law in Indiana in 2015, that state lost at least $60 million in revenue.

But Texas lawmakers, who in 2015 failed to pass “bathroom bills” aimed at limiting transgender people’s access to public restroom facilities, are ignoring the lessons of North Carolina and Indiana and pledging to forge ahead with anti-LGBT bigotry in 2017.

Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, has pre-filed Senate Bill 92 that would over-rule local ordinances that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and other factors not as not been granted by state law. Dallas, Fort Worth  and

Plano are among the cities in Texas that have such local ordinances.

In addition, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who oversees the Texas Senate, this week released his own legislative agenda. It includes plans for the “Women’s Privacy Act,” a re-do of 2015’s efforts to keep transgender women from using public restroom facilities.

Neither Hall’s pre-filed bill nor Patrick’s proposed bill are identical to HB2 in North Carolina. But, taken together, they would have the same effect, noted Chuck Smith, CEO of Equality Texas. And, he said, if passed the measures could have the same disastrous effects.

Texas lawmakers perhaps thought that separating the components of HB2 might make it more palatable, Smith said.

“Just taking HB 2 and cutting it into smaller bites still makes for a bad meal. It makes for bad law,” he said, adding that the Texas Association of Business has already expressed opposition for both.

The association, Smith said, “has already said that any legislation targeting LGBT people would be damaging to the businesses in Texas, the economy of Texas and the brand of Texas.”

Hall has also pre-filed SB 89, which Smith called “another futile attempt to use our state’s constitution to pass an anti-freedom-to-marry bill.” It would allow county clerks to refuse to issue marriage licenses to LGBT couples.

The community’s allies in Austin are also already hard at work. In fact, bills that have been pre-filed include efforts to get rid of out-dated laws that ban consensual same-sex sexual contact between adults (the Texas sodomy law) and a law prohibiting legal recognition of same-sex marriages. Both of those laws have been over-turned by U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

And Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, has already pre-filed SB 165, a comprehensive non-discrimination bill prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in the areas of housing, public accommodation, employment and state contracting.

Gay and trans folks have the same values as anyone: to be secure in their livelihoods and to live a life of purpose, free from discrimination,” rodriguez said. “An inclusive Texas is critical to recruiting top talent, attracting business and maintaining a strong tourism industry. This sesson, we must also be mindful of lawmakers’ attempts to authorize discrimination or even repeal the handful of local nondiscrimination ordinances and policies that we do have in Texas. We simply can’t afford discriminatory legislation of the kind that only brought ridicule to other states.”

Dallas Voice called Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s office and, at the request of a spokesman in the public information office, twice submitted emails seeking a statement from Abbott on Hall’s bills and on Patrick’s proposed legislative agenda. The governor’s media office did not respond either by phone or email.

Smith said he expects a companion bill to Hall’s measure will be filed at some point in the Texas House, and that plenty more bills targeting LGBT equality will be filed over the course of the legislative session, including misnamed “religious freedom” bills that would allow discrimination against LGBT people based on the person’s religious beliefs.

“This will probably be a very difficult [legislative] session” for the LGBT community, Smith said. “It’s going to be more contentious than 2015, and there will be more negative bills filed.”

Smith acknowledged that Donald Trump’s win in the race for the White House has “emboldened people who area trying to advance discrimination.” But at the same time, he continued, Trump’s election and other recent incidents like the massacre at Pulse in Orlando “have awoken some people” to join the fight against discrimination.

“Many of the coalitions that worked together in 2015 [to fight discriminatory legislation] are already working together around the coming 2017 legislative session,” he said. And Equality Texas is partnering with other progressive organizations to stage what they hope will be one of the largest lobby days ever.

“People can start right not by saving March 20 on their calendar and planning to attend our ‘All In For Equality’ lobby day,” Smith said. “Equality Texas is partnering with the Texas Business Association, Human Rights Campaign, Texas Freedom Network, the ACLU, the Transgender Education Network of Texas. We will be looking to partner with other organizations, some that we may not agree with on every issue but that we agree with on the issue of equality.

“We want and need as many people as possible to be in Austin on March 20. We want to make this the largest and most effective lobby day ever.”

Smith also encouraged LGBT people and allies of the community “join Equality Texas and sign the pledge” to advocate for equality. And, he added, “it’s never to early to pick up the phone and call your representative or your senator. Take every opportunity to contact your lawmakers by phone, in person or digitally.

“And don’t forget to buckle up. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 18, 2016.

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