For the first time in history, Texas senators considered a bill this morning that would prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the Lone Star State.
The Senate Economic Development Committee heard testimony on SB 237, filed by state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio.
Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith said he and six other people testified about the personal impact and and positive effect on economic development the bill would have. Among the speakers were gay former state Rep. Glen Maxey and retired Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, who was the first Purple Heart recipient in the Iraq War.
Smith said Alva gave a “very compelling testimony” that spoke about his experience and support for the bill.
In addition, Craig Briscoe, vice president of human resources for Dell Inc., sent in a written testimony in support of the bill (read it here).
Jonathan Saenz with anti-gay Texas Values and three business organizations submitted written opposition but did not testify in person, Smith said.
Smith said overall he was impressed with the hearing and thought it went well. Concerns about an increase in lawsuits were brought up, but Smith said the bill doesn’t change the procedure for discrimination complaints. Instead, it adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s list of protected categories and complaints would be investigated like those based on race or religion.
Smith said Equality Texas and other advocates for the bill will work with lawmakers to dispel myths that businesses would be at a higher risk for lawsuits if the legislation is passed. He hopes to have enough votes to get the bill out of committee.
The committee’s seven members are: Chairman Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, Vice Chairman Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, and Kirk Watson, D-Austin.
Watch today’s committee hearing here.