Where we stand in the 84th legislative session
Guns, God and gays: Another Texas legislative session is in full swing.
Since pre-filing opened for the 84th legislative session, Texas legislators have filed thousands of bills. Some simply recognize constituents or entities; others call for eliminating the requirement for licenses to carry a concealed handgun, and others simply reassert that only God can judge us.
Whether proposing tax cuts or preventing Texas from recognizing same-sex marriages even if the Supreme Court rules on the side of equality, legislators are just living up to their campaign promises.
As of press time (Thursday, March 12) about 40 bills have been filed that could positively or negatively impact the LGBT community. Among them is a House “religious liberty” resolution filed and pulled by Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, following opposition from the Texas Association of Businesses. On Wednesday, Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, re-filed the resolution, a companion to one introduced by Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels.
Numerous pro-LGBT bills cover everything from insurance and housing discrimination to marriage equality. On the anti-LGBT side, bills to withhold the salaries of county employees who issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples (HB 623 by Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia) and stripping local nondiscrimination ordinances (SB 343 by Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas) top the list.
Currently there are four categories of legislation either indirectly or directly targeting the LGBT community. Besides the attacks on local control and marriage equality, bills attacking the transgender community and “religious liberty” bills allowing people of faith to refuse service based on their personal religious convictions round out the list.
Local entities under attack
Bills like Huffines’ are part of a broader crackdown on what’s commonly called “local control,” wherein local governmental entities such as municipalities and counties over 5,000 residents make a range of decisions related to budgeting and human resource policies.
The Dallas senator’s bill would require that local laws align with state laws. In this case that would mean the numerous nondiscrimination ordinances and other policies impacting LGBT Texans would be scrapped. (In contrast, Colleyville Republican Sen. Konni Burton’s SB 440 solely prohibits local entities from banning hydraulic fracking, a controversial natural gas drilling technique.)
It’s bills like Huffines’, which utilizes sweeping language, that would negatively impact the LGBT community, said Daniel Williams, legislative specialist for the LGBT advocacy group Equality Texas. Using overly broad language is another way to attack the LGBT community. “It’s an attack any time you limit local authority.”
Rebecca L. Robertson, legal and policy director for the ACLU of Texas, agreed. And that may be the intention. “These bills are a ‘last gasp’ for social conservatives,” she said.
In the case of the slew of anti-marriage equality legislation, “There’s not a whole lot left for these legislators to do given we’re on the verge of getting marriage equality in all states,” Robertson added.
Part of a process
The unlikelihood of a bill making it out of committee or its vague language does not mean the ACLU, Equality Texas and others aren’t concerned about it, however. Both Robertson and Williams said it’s still too early to know which bills — good or bad — will get a hearing.
But even the most casual legislative observer can surmise just how far a bill will go in the legislature.
One sign is if legislators from each chamber filed identical bills, called companions. “When a bill doesn’t have a companion, it’s harder for it to pass,” Williams said.
The second sign is how fast a bill makes it out of its original chamber. “There’s a window between days 61 and 118 for bills [to get out of its original chamber. If it gets out on day 118, it only has 22 days to get to the other chamber,” Williams explained.
Hopefully, he said, “The bad bills won’t get a hearing or at least won’t get one until April or May.”
Though Williams previously said his group would be on defense given the current political climate, it’s not all doom and gloom. Of the bills supported by Equality Texas, he cited the prospects for HB 71 and its companion SB 492, also known as “Romeo and Juliet” legislation, to get at least a hearing. Those bills, according to Equality Texas, amend current indecency with a minor law to include same-sex teenage couples. Current law provides an “out” in situations where the contact was consensual, the parties involved are over the age of 14, the parties are with-in three years of each other’s age, but only for opposite sex couples.
After the filing period ends for legislation, the real challenges begin. “The floodgates open after filing closes,” Williams said.
That’s when the amendment process begins. According to House rules, amendments must be germane and relevant to a bill.
“That’s when we get less notice,” Williams said, but added that Equality Texas has become better at killing anti-LGBT amendments. He cited one of the most controversial amendments — one that would have cut funding to university LGBT student resource centers — but noted that he hasn’t done it without help.
“We win when the voices of Texans speak up,” Williams said. “We win when people stay engaged and involved.”
Even if it means defeating a bad bill or amendment, it’s still a victory that matters for the LGBT community.
Relationships and marriage:
• HB 71 by Rep. Mary González and SB 492 by Sen. John Whitmire would prevent two minors in a same-sex relationship from being charged with child indecency.
• HB 537 by Rep. Rafael Anchia and SB 250 by Sen. Sylvia Garcia would remove language added to the Health and Safety code in 1997, equalizing access to accurate supplementary birth certificates for all Texas children.
• HB 130 by Rep. Anchia, HJR 34 by Rep. Garnet Coleman, SB 98 by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa and SJR 13 by Sen. José Rodríguez would put a constitutional amendment on the November 2015 ballot to extend the freedom to marry to Texas.
• HB 582 by Rep. Chris Turner would prohibit and penalize discrimination by state contractors based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
• HB 1522 by Rep. Jessica Farrar would prohibit discrimination in public accommodations protections statewide for multiple protected classes including sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.
• HB 627 by Rep. Eric Johnson would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
• HB 70 by Rep. González would prohibit discrimination in public schools based on gender identity or expression and sexual orientation.
• HB 453 by Reps. Roberto Alonzo, HB 304 by Rep. Senfronia Thompson and SB 76 by Sen. Rodney Ellis would prohibit insurance discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
• HB 2059 by Rep. Coleman would amend James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.
• SB 88 by Sen. Ellis would prohibit bias based on sexual orientation in health education curricula.
• HB 679 by Rep. Sylvester Turner would authorize a study on homeless youth including LGBT youth.
• HB 2058 by Coleman would create a standard process for correcting gender markers.
Religious liberty bills:
• HJR 55 by Rep. Jason Villalba and SJR 10 by Sen. Donna Campbell would allow Texas’ businesses to refuse service or deny employment to LGBT people based on individual’s or religious organization’s beliefs. Villalba has since said he would reconsider his resolution but Rep. Matt Krause filed the identical HJR 125 late Wednesday, March 12.
• HB 2553 by Rep. Molly White would allow business owners to decide whom they serve or conduct business with based on religious convictions.
• HB 1355 by Rep. Matt Shaheen would make it a criminal offense for an elected official who threatens, punishes, or intimidates a person based on the person’s religious beliefs.
• HB 623 by Rep. Cecil Bell punishes state employees who would issues marriage licenses to same sex couples.
• HB 1745 by Bell, and SB 673 by Sen. Charles Perry would restructure state government to only allow officials in the secretary of state’s office to issue marriage licenses.
• HB 2555 by Rep. White would bar Texas from recognizing same-sex marriages regardless of federal court rulings.
• HB 1747 by Rep. Debbie Riddle would criminalize transgender individuals whose gender identity does not match their biological sex from using public accommodations appropriate to their gender identity or expression.
• HB 1748 also by Riddle, would make it a state jail felony for business owners to allow individuals to use a bathroom appropriate to their gender identity. It would also make it Class “A” misdemeanor if transgender individuals use bathrooms appropriate to their gender identity.
• HBs 2801 and 2802 by Rep. Gilbert Peña would make it a criminal offense for transgender students whose gender identity does not match their biological sex to use public accommodations appropriate to their gender identity or expression. School district and officials who failed to prevent the student from using a bathroom would be held liable.
Nondiscrimination ordinances/local control:
• HB 1556 by Rep. Rick Miller and SB 1155 by Sen. Bob Hall would restrict the ability of local elected officials to pass or enforce nondiscrimination ordinances, rules or regulations of identities not already protected by the state.
• SB 343 by Sen. Don Huffines, like HB 1556 and SB 1155, would restrict the ability of local elected officials to pass or enforce nondiscrimination ordinances or other rules or regulations not already protected by the state or in state code.