Rep. Michelle Beckley laying out her bills

Legislative update —

Tammye Nash. |. Managing Editor
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After losing the battle to get an anti-transgender bathroom bill passed through the Texas Legislature in 2017 — twice, once in regular session and once in special session — Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick this year has turned his attention toward getting a “religious refusal” bill enacted.

A total of 15 religious refusal bills have been introduced in this session of the Texas Legislature. “But the mac-daddy of them all, the No. 1 threat and the one that Dan Patrick is pushing is Senate Bill 17,” Equality Texas Interim Executive Director Samantha Smooth said this week.

And despite social media memes to the contrary, SB 17 has not been passed by the Legislature, Smooth added. It has only been passed by the Senate; it has been sent to The House State Affairs Committee but does not appear to have as much support there.

“There is a meme going around that says SB 17 has passed, and that means people might not realize we have to keep fighting,” Smoot said. “We are adjusting our own communications to make sure people understand SB 17 has not passed and that it is go time. It is time to get active.

John Carlo at the Capitol

“Call your state representative,” she urged. “Call the members of the committee. Let them all hear from you. We’ve got a fighting chance. We beat the bathroom bill [in 2017]; we can beat this, too.”

But even if SB 17 is defeated, Smoot warned, the battle continues. Even though Patrick’s pet bill is the “No. 1 threat, there are 14 other ones out there. And if we stop SB 17, I predict we will start seeing the others moving,” she said. “Our best defense is making sure that our elected officials understand that the LGBT community and our allies see this bill for what it is, which is a gigantic invitation to discriminate in all aspects of life, and make sure that they see we are mobilized.

“If they see that we are treating this bill with the same intensity and resolve we treated the bathroom bill with, that will make these lawmakers think twice about voting for it,” she added.

Texas’ business community, which can often lean to the right when it comes to politics, stepped up and spoke out en masse against Patrick’s bathroom bill in 2017. Many of them have started coming forward to speak against the religious refusal bill, too.

“The business community was instrumental in defeating the bathroom bill in 2017, and they are already having an impact” this year in efforts to defeat SB 17, Smoot said. “It is extraordinary that all these pro-equality businesses have taken the bold step of publicly opposing these religious exemption bills. When Apple and Amazon and Google and others like them speak out, the lawmakers will listen.”

Smoot said that Patrick seems to have “a very personal agenda when it comes to the LGBTQ community, and he pursues it even when his agenda is not shared by the mainstream interests of the state. He pursues it to the political peril of his allies.

“He uses the LGBTQ community to fan the flames of intolerance within certain elements of his base, but the political price he pays seems greater. Just look at the last election for proof,” she added. “He seemed to back off at the beginning of the session, but that didn’t last long. I can only assume it is personal.”

Rep. Michelle Beckley

Other anti-LGBT efforts
The 15 religious refusal bills that have been introduced are not the only dangerous pieces of legislation to be introduced in this session. There are, Smoot said, five or seven — “depending on how you count them” — other bills causing concern.

One of the most heinous, Smoot said, is House Bill 1910, co-sponsored by Rep. Jay Dean, R-Gregg and Upshur Counties, and Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston. HB 1910 is currently “sitting in Dutton’s committee, the Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee. It is a terrible bill that would tie the hands of judges making custodial decisions, including in foster care situations.”

The bill would prevent judges from taking into consideration a child’s gender identity when it comes to making decisions regarding custody, and “Everything we know tells us how vitally important it is for these [transgender] children to have at least one affirming adult in their lives.

“Everything we know about family law tells us that the No. 1 principle is to do what is in the best interest of the children. Telling a judge that they are prohibited from doing that just flies in the face of what is human and common sense and just,” Smoot declared.

Although at face value, this bill could be seen as preventing a judge from placing a transgender child with an affirming parent or guardian, Smoot said that it is “intended to be negative. Everyone knows there are better judges and there are worse judges when it comes to sensitivity to these issues, and if this were law, it perhaps could prevent a bad decision. But the aim of the bill is to prevent the affirming parent from having any edge in a custody hearing.

“This has nothing to do with what’s good for kids and everything to do with taking the side of the non-affirming parent in a custody battle,” she said.

Smoot noted that a number of state agencies are “up for sunset review” this session. That means that legislation authorizing those agencies is expiring and needs to be renewed, which leaves opening for anti-LGBT forces to step in.

“There are always agencies sunsetting in a legislative session. But this time, some of those reviews could be open to anti-LGBT amendments. We’ve seen no red flags yet, but we will be watching,” she said. “And if any negative bills start moving, we will be sending out the information to alert our community.”

On the positive side
There are several pro-equality bills that have been introduced this year, including House Joint Resolution 64, which would remove from the Texas Constitution an earlier amendment banning marriage equality, and HB 978, which would update the state legal code to make the language in marriage laws gender neutral.

Both are authored by Rep. Michelle Beckley, a freshman Democrat from Carrollton.

According to a press release from Beckley’s office, the lawmaker “laid out her bill … in the House Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence” on Monday evening. If approved the resolution on the ballot for this year’s November election.

“The United States Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land in Obergefell v. Hodges, and Texas has failed to remove this discriminatory language from our Constitution,” Beckley said. “This resolution will repeal Section 32, Article 1 from the Constitution to reflect and address same-sex marriage.”

The amendment, then known as Proposition 8, banning legal recognition of same-sex marriage in Texas was approved by voters in November, 2008.

Smoot noted that Beckley’s HB 978 has been sent to the same committee. “It doesn’t change state policy, but it would provide a much-needed update to the legal code. Right now, the legal code only talks about husbands and wives, so same-sex couples don’t exist in Texas law,” she said.

But Beckley’s bill “would make the language gender-neutral so that our relationships are recognized and so state judges can apply the law fairly and correctly, with proper guidance. It’s time for the state of Texas to legally recognize our families,” Smooth said.

Johnson’s ‘prior authorization’ bill
Prism Health North Texas CEO John Carlo testified in committee on April 8 for a bill sponsored by Rep. Julie Johnson, HB 3058, which addresses the problem of prior authorization for medical care that has become a burden to physicians providing care to their patients.

Prior authorization can lead to a delay of care and, at times, may result in a denial of medically necessary care all together, experts say.
Insurance companies also deny or restrict access to certain medications, only covering less-expensive medications. In the case of HIV meds, the lower-cost option may be the same class of drug, but may not work as well on all people, Carlo told committee members.

Those with HIV have to undergo prior authorization every month when they need to refill their prescriptions. A delay in authorization may lead to a lapse in treatment, which can cause viral resistance.

“Timely treatment for HIV/AIDS patients is crucial, as their resistance to drugs is time-sensitive,” Carlo said. “HB 3058 will address this by prohibiting health plans from requiring prior authorization on HIV/AIDS drugs.”

Johnson’s bill would prohibit prior authorization for prescription drug benefits, regarding prescription drugs to treat HIV and/or AIDS. According to Johnson, this would lead to better quality of life for patients with HIV/AIDS, and would eliminate needless bureaucratic red tape for prior authorization when the condition is not changing.