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86th TX Lege

Texas Senate Approves Two Bills to Override Paid Sick Leave, Local Control Over Employment Practices

LGBTQ advocates and business groups have warned that the measures could imperil municipal rules that outlaw discrimination.

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Texas State Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune

After facing unexpected friction in Texas’ Republican-dominated Legislature, a pair of bills to override local rules mandating paid sick leave and standardize employment practices across the state passed the Senate on Thursday over the objections of LGBTQ advocates who have warned the bills could threaten local non-discrimination protections.

Since Austin passed an ordinance in February 2018 mandating that employers allow workers to accrue paid sick time, Republican state lawmakers have made clear that they hoped to override such local rules. The lawmakers have called the requirements anti-small business and fretted that they created a “patchwork of regulations” across the state.

The two bills, Senate Bills 2485 and 2487, passed in two party-line 18-12 votes, and now head to the House, where similar legislation on the issue has yet to move.

What seemed to be the consensus paid sick leave bill — which had been filed by Sen. Brandon Creighton in the Senate and Rep. Craig Goldman in the House and had earned the public blessing of the governor — drew ire and stalled after a Senate committee overhauled the measure and stripped out a provision that explicitly protected non-discrimination ordinances.

LGBTQ advocates had cautioned for months that any bill overriding local control over employment practices could threaten several Texas’ cities’ measures prohibiting discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community.

While that bill passed out of committee a month ago, it never made it to the floor. It had been, one business advocate said, “poisoned” after LGBTQ advocates and a coalition of business groups came out against it.

Last month, Creighton filed four narrower bills, each aimed at accomplishing a slice of the original measure’s goals. Two of those four bills passed Thursday; they would prevent local governments from mandating paid sick leave, as well as regulating certain benefits practices.

The two bills that have yet to come up would override local “ban the box” provisions that prevent employers from asking potential employees about their criminal history in the early stages of the hiring process and ensure that certain employment scheduling practices are regulated statewide. Both bills are expected to come to the Senate floor early next week.

LGBTQ advocates have sounded the alarm even about the splintered versions of Creighton’s new, narrower employment practices bills, arguing they could still threaten cities’ non-discrimination ordinances. The city of Austin said the bills could undermine its non-discrimination ordinance, according to The Dallas Morning News, as have legal experts consulted by LGBTQ groups.

But Creighton has maintained that none of the bills would threaten non-discrimination provisions.

“I’ll say it again: These bills don’t affect local nondiscrimination ordinances,” Creighton said last week, laying the measures out before the Senate State Affairs Committee. Other legal opinions, including one from an attorney with the Texas Attorney General’s Office, claim the ordinances wouldn’t threaten those protections.

During a heated floor debate, several Democrats asked Creighton why the state should take away cities’ ability to regulate the businesses in their jurisdictions and raised concerns that pre-empting local regulations could threaten LGBTQ communities.

Creighton responded that it was “not my intent” — nor would it be the bill’s impact — to threaten local non-discrimination ordinances.

“If that’s truly your intent, it would be pretty easy to put that in there and make sure that your intent is actually captured in the law,” said Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin. “If you want to be clear, you should put the non-discrimination language back in here… You refuse to do that, and that’s part of the problem.”

“The courts have made it clear: It’s not enough, no matter how well-intentioned you are, to stand on the floor of the Senate and say, ‘That is my intent.’ The courts will look at the words in your statute,” Watson added.

“In the original SB 15 legislation, that policy was written very broadly,” Creighton said. “At that time, it did have [non-discrimination ordinance] language. These single-shot bills are very narrow in scope.”

At one point, during a heated exchange between Creighton and Dallas Democrat Royce West, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick had to step in to keep the senators from talking over each other.

“Members, members,” Patrick intervened. “Who had the floor last?”

The tension did not die down as senators turned to amend the bills and ultimately voted on them.

Watson proposed an amendment to one of Creighton’s bills that would have revived, verbatim, the protections for local non-discrimination ordinances that were present in Creighton’s original bill.

“Members, I would ask that you keep the bill in its current form,” Creighton said. “It’s very clear that non-discrimination language is not needed.”

Watson’s amendment failed.

Alex Samuels contributed reporting.

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Disclosure: Amazon Web Services, Equality Texas, Facebook and Google have been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Emma Platoff is a breaking news and civil courts reporter at The Texas Tribune, where she started as a fellow in 2017. She is the first to fill either role. A recent graduate of Yale University, Emma is the former managing editor of the Yale Daily News and a former intern at The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Hartford Courant.

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86th TX Lege

Texas Bill Would Eliminate Prior Authorizations Requirements for HIV Meds

Texas HB 3058, authored by Rep. Julie Johnson (D-Irving), would prohibit health plan providers from requiring prior authorizations for medications prescribed to treat AIDS or HIV.

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Antiviral pills used to treat HIV and AIDS often require prior authorization

The Texas House Committee on Insurance held a hearing on House Bill 3058, a bill that would remove bureaucratic barriers between people living with HIV and the lifesaving medications they need. The bill, authored by Rep. Julie Johnson (D-Irving), would eliminate a requirement for prior authorization of prescription medicines that treat AIDS and HIV.

Patients living with HIV who are not on these treatments are able to transmit HIV more easily, which impacts not only the patient themselves but also public health. Timely treatment upon diagnosis and continuity of care is essential for people living with HIV; delays in treatment, however brief, can lead to viral resistance. Once the virus develops resistance, the medication, and often the entire class of medication, are no longer viable treatment options.

“Requiring prior authorization in treatment drugs for HIV & AIDS is a serious barrier to timely treatment for patents and is an adversary of Texas public health overall,” Rep. Johnson said in introducing the bill. “Eighty-five percent of physicians across the U.S. report that the prior authorization requirement is an interference in their continuity of care.”

Health plan providers requiring prior authorization for these medicines, not only put patients at risk but also dramatically increase public health risks and overall cost of treatment. Prior authorization requirements were designed to limit costs, but in the case of HIV & AIDS, the potential cost as a result of inability to access treatment promptly far exceeds the price of the medicines.

Dr. John Carlo, CEO of Prism Health North Texas, which runs three non-profit health centers specializing in HIV treatment and prevention in North Texas, worked with Rep. Johnson to draft the legislation with the goal of expanding access to these medicines and ultimately saving lives.

If passed, the bill would go in to effect on September 1, 2019, and be applied to health benefit plans that are delivered, issued for delivery, or renewed on or after January 1, 2020.

The bill was left pending in committee, with a vote expected in the coming weeks.

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86th TX Lege

Texas Senate Approves Bill LGBTQ Advocates Call a “License to Discriminate”

The bill passed on a 19–12 vote, with one Republican voting against it and one Democrat voting for it. It requires one more approval in the Senate before it heads to the Texas House.

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Dave Edmonson, Executive Director of Texas and the Southeast region for TechNet, speaks against discriminatory legislation during a press conference on March 27, 2019.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune

After emotional testimony, a forceful show of opposition from leaders in the state’s business community and more than an hour of floor debate, the Texas Senate on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to a sweeping religious refusals bill, a priority proposal for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick that LGTBQ advocates have called a “license to discriminate.”

After emotional testimony, a forceful show of opposition from leaders in the state’s business community and more than an hour of floor debate, the Texas Senate on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to a sweeping religious refusals bill, a priority proposal for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick that LGTBQ advocates have called a “license to discriminate.”

The measure, Lubbock Republican Charles Perry’s Senate Bill 17, would allow occupational license holders like social workers or lawyers to cite “sincerely held religious beliefs” when their licenses are at risk due to professional behavior or speech. It would also prevent licensing boards from enacting regulations that burden “an applicant’s or license holder’s free exercise of religion.” The bill does not protect police officers, first responders or doctors who refuse to provide life-saving care.

After a heated debate, the measure passed on a 19–12 initial vote, with one Democrat, Sen. Eddie Lucio, voting for it, and one Republican, Sen. Kel Seliger, voting against. It requires one more vote in the Senate before it can be sent to the Texas House for debate.

Perry said the bill provides a defense for licensed professionals who find themselves before credentialing boards based on conduct or speech motivated by their “sincerely held religious beliefs” — a pre-emptive protection for religious employees at a time when, he claimed, religion is under attack.

But LGBTQ advocates and Democrats have criticized the bill as an attempt to give cover to those who would deny critical services to members of the LGBTQ community. Last week, leaders from major businesses like Amazon, Facebook and Google, as well as tourism officials from some of the state’s biggest cities, came out in force against the bill. Discriminating against LGBTQ communities is bad for business, they said.

Patrick, who has tagged Perry’s bill as one of his top 30 legislative priorities, defended it in the face of the business community’s criticism.

“Senate Bill 17 will ensure that anyone can practice their profession in Texas without being forced to compromise their religious faith,” Patrick spokesman Alejandro Garcia said last week.

Equality Texas, an advocacy group, called the bill this session’s “number one threat to the LGBTQ community.”

“Dan Patrick has doubled down on his attack on the LGBTQ community, moving out of bathrooms and into every single licensed profession in Texas,” said Samantha Smoot, the organization’s interim executive director. “SB 17 would create a religious litmus test, and open the doors to discrimination and to real harm to LGBTQ Texans. Dan Patrick has launched a whole new war against LGBTQ people.”

During a lengthy floor debate, six Democrats and one Republican echoed those concerns.

“What if somebody said, ‘I am not going to provide a service because you are a gay couple?’” asked Seliger, an Amarillo Republican. “If somebody said, ‘You’re Muslim, I’m not going to provide this service’?… Doesn’t this bill essentially provide a defense of that discrimination or discriminatory behavior?”

And Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, pointed to history, when “the practice of faith has been tied to a lot of hideous practices” — like prohibiting interracial marriages.

“The reality is that a lot of people have done things that were not consistent with being a Christian” while claiming religious motivation, West said.

Perry insisted that “this bill does nothing to promote any illegal or discriminatory activity.”

“It’s not licensing discrimination at any level,” he said later in the debate.

In what he characterized as an effort to codify that, Sen. José Menéndez, a San Antonio Democrat, proposed an amendment to the bill that would explicitly prohibit professionals from refusing service based on gender identity or sexual orientation. Perry put it to a vote; the amendment failed 12–19.

“You know that saying, ‘You can put lipstick on a pig?’” asked Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston. “Sen. Perry, this is a discrimination bill.”

When it came time to vote, Miles’ answer was clear: “No!” he shouted from the back of the chamber.

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Disclosure: Amazon Web Services, Equality Texas, Facebook and Google have been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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86th TX Lege

After helping defeat the “bathroom bill” in 2017, business groups are back to oppose “discriminatory and divisive measures”

The groups are targeting two priority bills in the Texas Senate.

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Angela Hale is the executive director for Texas Welcomes All, a group including tourism officials and visitors bureaus that came together with the explicit goal of opposing the “bathroom bill.”
Angela Hale is the executive director for Texas Welcomes All, a group including tourism officials and visitors bureaus that came together with the explicit goal of opposing the “bathroom bill.” Photo credit: Emree Weaver / The Texas Tribune

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune

In the spring of 2015, 80 companies and business groups banded together to create Texas Competes, a coalition with something of a novel mission: It would make the “economic case for equality,” fighting discriminatory proposals and convincing the state’s business-friendly leaders that doing what they considered the right thing for LGBTQ Texans was also the smart play economically. 

This year, the group’s membership has swelled above 1,400 organizations and counts among its ranks dozens of Fortune 500 companies, including Amazon, Google and Facebook.

The group and its allies are now flexing that muscle to combat legislative proposals the business leaders consider threats to their economic success due to the disparate impacts they would have on Texas’ LGBTQ communities.

That opposition infrastructure was on full display Wednesday afternoon as a slate of business leaders, including representatives of Texas’ burgeoning tech industry and tourism officials from some of the state’s biggest cities, detailed their opposition to two priority Senate bills at a Capitol press conference that came alongside an open letter to state leaders.

Perhaps the group’s biggest success was the failure last session of a “bathroom bill” that would have restricted transgender Texans’ access to certain public facilities. This year, many groups have argued, proposals that may have seemed more innocuous at first blush would create “a bathroom bill 2.0” situation.

“It’s always been about more than bathrooms because a welcoming, inclusive Texas is a 21st century economic imperative,” said David Edmonson, Texas director for TechNet, a coalition of tech companies committed to inclusivity.

At issue this week are two bills that have been tagged as priorities for the lieutenant governor. One, Republican Sen. Brandon Creighton’s Senate Bill 15, was at its start a relatively uncontroversial measure aimed at gutting mandatory paid sick leave ordinances in cities like Austin and San Antonio. But the bill was rewritten before it passed out of committee, and protections for local nondiscrimination ordinances were stripped out. Although the new version of the bill doesn’t explicitly target LGBTQ Texans, advocacy groups immediately raised alarm bells about the shift.

The other bill, Republican Sen. Charles Perry’s Senate Bill 17, would protect professional license holders from losing their licenses for conduct or speech they say was motivated by “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Advocates and business leaders say the bill would grant huge swaths of Texas employees a “license to discriminate” against LGBTQ communities.

The authors of both bills insist that they are not discriminatory measures, and Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has defended them as well. Both have advanced out of Senate committees, but neither has come to the floor for a vote.

“The vast majority of business leaders in Texas know they have no greater ally than Lt. Gov. Patrick, who is helping lead the fight to ensure the Texas economy remains No. 1 in the nation and among the strongest in the world,” said Alejandro Garcia, a spokesman for Patrick.

Not every major Texas business group attended Wednesday’s press conference or signed on to the letter opposing both measures. Several major groups backed the original version of Creighton’s Senate Bill 15, which was pitched as a consensus priority for the business community.

Perry says his bill is a protection against “attempts around the country to force license holders to take oaths that go against their faith and even to suppress their freedom of speech.”

“It is concerning and disappointing that businesses or anyone, for that matter, that would be against protecting one of our basic core principles of who we are as a nation,” he said.

Creighton, who authored the paid sick leave bill, called advocacy groups’ opposition to the bill — and business groups’ support for that cause — “anti-business and flat-out dishonest.”

“The bill cannot impact a nondiscrimination ordinance, is only applicable to private employers, and promotes predictability for Texas job creators,” Creighton said, citing an internal legal analysis by the city of San Antonio that indicated that the bill would not impact its regulation.

That bill passed out of committee weeks ago and has languished on the Senate’s daily list of bills that are eligible for a vote. Perry’s Senate Bill 17 has not yet been placed on that same list.

Business groups said they can’t risk the competitive disadvantage these bills would impose.

“At Visit Fort Worth, we’re in the tourism business, and at the heart of all tourism is a warm welcome,” said Robert Jameson, the group’s CEO. “Our job is to speak up before the damage happens.”

At a hearing for Perry’s religious refusal bill this week, dozens of emotional witnesses told lawmakers how the measure threatened their comfort and safety. Fewer witnesses backed the bill. Perry said the bill has significant carve-outs for doctors and police officers, meaning it would not protect physicians or law enforcement who refuse to aid or protect LGBTQ Texans in situations when their lives are at stake.

But witnesses, including a host of religious leaders, cautioned that that those limitations wouldn’t be sufficient to protect LGBTQ Texans from discrimination at the hands of occupational license holders like lawyers and social workers.

Ash Hall, an LGBTQ activist, recounted an emotional story about seeking help from a counselor while struggling with depression at Baylor University. The counselor “seemed uncomfortable with me” but “put her religious reservations aside to listen,” Hall recalled.

“If she had refused to listen to me, I would not be here today because I assure you, I would have killed myself,” Hall told the committee. “What I want people to think about when they look at this bill is that ‘life-saving’ part of it is not always so obvious. It’s easier when I walk into a doctor’s office for somebody to see that I am LGBTQ before they see that, say, I am five minutes away from my appendix rupturing.”

After last session’s months-long slog to prevent any version of a bathroom bill from being passed into law, business leaders have kept in close touch with one another — and kept a close eye on the bills they consider discriminatory. That broad coalition grew in January 2017 with the formation of Texas Welcomes All, a group including tourism officials and visitors bureaus that came together with the explicit goal of opposing the bathroom bill as the Legislature geared up for a fight over the issue that would span several months.

After having its mettle tested in 2017, that vast network can mobilize quickly, as it did this week after Perry’s religious refusal bill passed out of committee.

“We’re better prepared than in 2015, when it was really uncharted territory,” said Jessica Shortall, the managing director of Texas Competes. “There wasn’t really a playbook for business and figuring out how to get engaged. Getting through 2017, where this was a steady drumbeat, there was an increasing sense of urgency. It helped us all figure out what that playbook should look like.”

This year, she added, “we’ve been briefing our members for a year and a half on the likelihood that this kind of religious exemption or religious refusal bill could be a focus.” After a “confluence of factors,” the group decided this week was time to organize a public statement and release an open letter to state leaders.

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Disclosure: Amazon, Google, Facebook, Visit Fort Worth and Baylor University have been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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