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… Read More

Last Wednesday, the Texas House Committee on State Affairs took testimony on HJR 110, by state Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, which would add a modified version of the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to the state constitution.

TFN supported passage of Texas RFRA in 1999, and we think it has been working just fine since then. But HJR 110 is not the RFRA of old. The amendment’s vague, overly broad language could create all sorts of unintended consequences and would undoubtedly lead to expensive litigation.

And nobody has explained those potential consequences better than former state Rep. Scott Hochberg did at last week’s State Affairs hearing:

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For months state Sen. Dan Patrick — the Republican chairman of the Texas Senate Education Committee — has insisted that the Legislature should divert millions of dollars from public education to subsidize tuition at private and religious schools. Sen. Patrick and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst even held a press conference at a parochial school in Austin to promote their ideas. They and other voucher advocates have often seemed to care more about helping private schools increase their enrollment than in helping the state’s public schools educate 5 million Texas kids.

But Sen. Patrick’s legislation creating a tax-credit voucher scheme, Senate Bill 23, ran into a buzz saw in today’s Education Committee hearing. That buzz saw was Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, a true champion for public education.

Sen. Davis pointed out that Texas ranks 49th among the nation’s 50 states and the District of Columbia in spending per pupil. In fact, just Nevada and Arizona spend less than Texas on a per-pupil basis. We’re starving our public schools, Sen. Davis said, and then blaming those schools when they struggle. And voucher schemes — whether through tax credits or direct state subsidies — would divert more money… Read More

On Wednesday the Texas House Select Committee on Federalism and Fiscal Responsibility will consider a resolution condemning the federal requirement that most employers include coverage for contraception in health insurance for their employees. HCR 32, by state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, lacks the force of law, but its passage would send an alarming message that says the Texas House thinks it’s just fine if bosses impose their personal religious beliefs on the health care decisions of their employees. And it would make clear that women’s health care simply isn’t a priority in Texas.

Here are some points House members might want to keep in mind as they debate this issue:… Read More

A rare moment of rational debate broke out in the Texas Senate last week in the most unlikely of places — a committee hearing on a proposal to ban Texas courts from imposing  “foreign law” (code for Sharia law) on citizens. Hearings on this contentious subject in previous years have been marked by open bigotry and wild accusations against Muslim Americans.  But the Senate Business & Commerce Committee’s consideration of SB 1639 by Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, took a different tone.

There were, to be sure, several testifiers who warned of the threat of a “hostile system of laws that has crept into our community” and peddled thinly veiled paranoia. But after these folks had their say, the committee heard from  a parade of informed, thoughtful testifiers who systematically took apart the case for the bill. Pastors, interfaith groups, civil liberty organizations and attorneys specializing in family law each in their turn challenged the need for — and motivation behind — the proposed bill.

The key exchange came at the end of incisive testimony by Karl Hayes of the Texas Family Law Foundation:

Hayes: “None of the proponents who have come forth to testify on this… Read More