In an impromptu meeting called at the close of the Senate’s regular business on Wednesday, the Business and Commerce Committee quietly — and narrowly — voted to pass Senate Bill 1639 by a vote of 5-4. Based on our quick review of the audio file of the meeting, the vote count was as follows:
Yes: Carona (R), Taylor (R), Eltife (R), Hancock (R), Lucio (D)
No: Estes (R), Van de Putte (D), Watson (D), Whitmire (D)
It’s not exactly surprising to see a measure targeting the mythical threat of Sharia law advance in Texas — it’s certainly not the first time. But given the overwhelming chorus of voices that unequivocally demonstrated that there is no problem with Sharia law in Texas courts, it is a little disconcerting.
And yet, some on the committee were clearly listening to that testimony. Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, explained why he joined with three Democrats on the committee to vote against the measure:
Senator Carona, I want to first start by saying that I believe this bill was filed with the best of intentions. I think it was filed to protect the weakest among us from systems of law which are fundamentally unjust, and I applaud that intent. Mr. Chairman, I do not agree with those who have attempted to malign your attempts to pass this bill as a form of religious bigotry. I vote against it, not because I disagree with its intent, but I think it is not needed and I fear that there are possible unintended consequences.
First of all, the drafting of this bill is very broad; it makes sweeping prohibitive statements about all foreign law. We heard testimony that it could invalidate divorces and maybe even marriages in countries without separation of church and state. The supporters of the bill want to stop oppressive — and I do say oppressive — systems like Sharia, but that would also pick up benign systems of Jews, Catholics and immigrants from countries without separation of church and state. The supporters of the bill could not guarantee that unintended consequences like this would not follow.
So I return to my original point: why should we risk these unintended consequences? … I would urge my members, the members, fellow members to be very careful with this, and, respectfully, I’ll be voting no.
The bill now awaits a vote of the full Senate… unless the clear logic Sen. Estes lays out can persuade his colleagues to keep off the Senate floor what could turn into an ugly debate. (Due to the Senate’s operating rules, it takes only 11 Senators to block consideration of a bill.)