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The Good, The Bad and the Legislative

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In your legislative update this week: Two bad bills and one good one make it out of committee – with 38 days left in the session the next couple of weeks are crucial!

I’m Daniel Williams with Equality Texas and this is the legislative update for Friday April 24, the 102nd day of the Texas Legislature’s 140 day regular session. It’s been a rough week here at the capitol, but despite all the bad news you may have been hearing there’s lots of good news to report.

On Monday the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee heard HB 71 by Rep. Mary González. The bill would equalize the state’s “Romeo and Juliet” defense, ending the legal criminalization of LGBT teen dating.

Parents, not police, should be responsible for helping their kids make good dating decisions and HB 71 helps make that possible.

On Wednesday the bill was unanimously reported out of the Committee. Hopefully it will be headed to the floor soon. You can use our Action Center to contact your state representative in support of the bill, we’ll put the link in the notes.

Also on Wednesday, the House State Affairs Committee heard HB 3567 by Sanford. This bill is a little tricky. On the surface, what it’s trying to do is already covered by state law. Namely, the bill wants to insure that churches and clergy who don’t approve of a particular marriage don’t have to recognize it. I was raised in a church were we were taught in Sunday School that interracial marriage is a violation of God’s plan, and as disgusting as that is that church had every right to teach that and every right to preach that and every right to restrict the use of its facilities to weddings it disapproved of. The freedom of religion protects the right of religious institutions to teach things that are contrary to public sentiment. But HB 3567 goes a step further, and this is where the problem is. HB 3567, as it is currently written, would allow a clergy person to use their religious belief to discriminate even if they were not acting in an ecclesiastical function. So if a part time pastor was also employed by, say, DPS they could refuse to issue a driver’s license to someone in their married name if they disagreed with the person’s marriage – maybe because the person had divorced and remarried, maybe because the person had married someone of a different faith, or was in an interracial marriage or married to someone of the same-gender (once that becomes legal in Texas). It would allow that pastor, if employed in the private sector, to sue their employer if they’re required to treat all customers fairly without discrimination. Since we really don’t want the state to be in the position of deciding who is or isn’t “real” clergy, this opens a huge loophole whereby anyone who wants to discriminate can simply declare themselves the pastor of a religion and use that as an excuse. We’re talking to the author’s office and are hoping to close this error in drafting.

Also on Wednesday HB 4105 by Cecil Bell was voted out of the House State Affairs Committee and HB 3864 by Scott Sanford was voted out of the Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee.

HB 4105 is one of four bills by Bell attempting to stave off the anticipated freedom to marry ruling by the Supreme Court. This one adds largely duplicative language to the Family Code prohibiting the recognition by the state of marriage between two people of the same gender and then says that if the courts rule that the state does have to recognize such a marriage that the state, rather than the county, gets to keep any fees collected in connection with issuing the marriage license.

HB 3864 creates an Indiana-style license to discriminate for child welfare service providers that would prohibit government contracts from requiring that tax-payer funded services be provided without discrimination: a guarantee of tax-payer funded discrimination.

Both of these bills, along with the Romeo and Juliet bill now go to the powerful 15-member Calendars Committee which will decide when, and if, they are heard on the House Floor.

The next few weeks are particularly vital.

That means that it’s more important than ever to be vigilant. I know we ask you to contact your lawmakers all the time, but if you’ve ever ignored that request (not that any of you would) these next few weeks are the time to take it seriously.

For more information, visit the Equality Texas website at www.equalitytexas.org

Chase is the founder and Creative Director of therepubliq.com, former host and Executive Producer of OutCast Austin, an award-winning LGBT weekly radio program on KOOP 91.7 FM in Austin. In 2011, he was named the Critics Pick for 'Most Gaybiquitous' in the Austin Chronicle's Best of Austin. In 2012, CultureMap Austin named him one of Austin's Top LGBT bloggers and he received the AGLCC's Chamber Award for Social Media Diva.

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