This Is a Big Week in the Texas Legislature

The Texas Freedom Network will be busy, busy, busy at the Legislature this week. Sex education, religious freedom, LGBT rights, and family planning funding are on legislative calendars. Click on the links in the Take Action box on the right to help our efforts at the Capitol.

Sex Education

The Texas House Committee on Public Education is set to take up House Bill 1057, which could effectively end sex education in many school districts in Texas, the state with the fourth-highest teen birth rate in the nation. HB 1057, by state Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, would add burdensome new bureaucratic requirements on schools districts and undermine the ability for communities to make their own decisions on sex ed materials and instruction. Learn more about what’s wrong with HB 1057 here.

This legislation’s companion bill, Senate Bill 521, has already been heard by a Senate committee, where it became clear during the hearing that some politicians were more interested in dragging schools into a debate over abortion than they were with responsible teen sex education.

Religious Freedom

Three bills relating to religious freedom are scheduled for committee hearings at the Texas Legislature this week.

House Bill 308 by state Rep. Dwayne Bohac, R-Houston would permit school districts to display symbols associated with traditional winter celebrations, including Christmas, and allow students and staff to offer traditional holiday greetings. The House Public Education Committee will hear testimony on the bill Tuesday.

TFN opposes this bill, which is unnecessary because Texas students and teachers are already permitted to do everything the bill supposedly protects. The bill’s primary purpose seems to be promoting the phony “War on Christmas” that Fox News invents each December. Passage of this law would complicate the already-challenging balance local schools have to strike in negotiating a respectful celebration of religious holidays without promoting a particular religious belief.

Senate Bill 1639 by state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, would prohibit Texas courts from applying foreign and international laws and doctrines in divorce, marriage, child custody and other proceedings related to family law. The Senate Business and Commerce Committee will hear testimony on this bill Tuesday.

This bill, which TFN opposes, appears to be an attempt to prevent the imposition of Islamic law (Sharia) in Texas — something already barred by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as well as Texas’ State Constitution. For the past two legislative sessions, proponents have failed to cite even one Texas court decision demonstrating an actual need for this legislation. The absence of any evidence of a problem is one of the primary reasons the American Bar Association recently passed a resolution opposing such measures. Further, there is a real danger that this language would interfere with religious freedom in our state, including the use of religious tribunals (Bet Dins) in some Jewish communities.

HJR 110 by state Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, is a proposed state constitutional amendment that would add a modified version of the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to the state constitution. The House State Affairs Committee will hear testimony on this bill on Wednesday.

While the resolution and its supporters claim this constitutional amendment will strengthen existing protections for religious liberty, the overly broad terminology in the amendment could create all sorts of unintended consequences and would undoubtedly lead to expensive litigation. TFN supported passage of Texas’ Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1999 and sees no reason to change course when the existing law is working. We oppose HJR 110.

LGBT Rights

On Wednesday the Senate Economic Development Committee will hear testimony on Senate Bill 237 by state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio. This legislation, which TFN supports, would prohibit discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

Current state law makes it illegal to discriminate in employment based on a person’s race, religion, gender, national origin, age or ability. Those are all universal attributes (meaning everybody has them) that have historically been the basis for discrimination in our culture. But there is no state law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression additional universal attributes that have historically been the basis for discrimination. In fact:

  • Texas officials estimate there are potentially hundreds of cases of employment discrimination against LGBT Texans each year.
  • 26 percent of transgender Texans report losing a job because of their gender identity or expression.
  • Texas men in same-sex relationships make 9 percent less than their heterosexual peers.
  • Households headed by two women make 11 percent less than households headed by straight, married people.

Birth Control/Family Planning

Two years ago — on April 1, 2011 — the Texas Legislature fired the first shots in a war on birth control in this state. On that day, opponents of family planning launched a surprise attack during debate over the state’s budget, passing a series of amendments slashing $73 million from Texas’ two-year family planning budget — a crippling reduction of 66 percent. The results have been devastating. At least 53 women’s healthcare clinics have closed, cutting off preventive care, including birth control, for 147,000 low-income women.

This Thursday lawmakers will return to the scene of the catastrophe, as the Texas House votes to approve a new two-year budget for the state. The proposed budget restores most of the funds that were cut during the last session. But as was the case two years ago, funds for family planning services are vulnerable to attack during the debate on the House floor.

Click here to send your legislator a simple message: Supporting women’s health means supporting birth control. Vote “NO” on any amendment that reduces or restricts family planning funding in the budget.

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