The Austin Chronicle

Lege Lines: Bills on the Move

Sine die looms. Do these bills have a shot?

By the News Staff, May 5, 2017, News

Seventeen religious freedom bills have been filed this session. While most remain pending in committees, HB 3859, filed by James Frank, R-Wichita Falls, continues to move. After passing through the House's State Affairs Committee, it was sent to Calendars on April 27, and on Wednesday got scheduled for a Saturday hearing. Like other religious liberty bills, HB 3859 would allow adults working in the foster care system to deny adoption and fostering to LGBTQ couples (and abortion services to pregnant foster youth) in the name of "sincerely held" religious bigotry. With the Senate's rampant trans- and homophobia this session, it's almost certain HB 3859 will become law if it passes through the House. Coin­ci­dently, the state's foster care system is in dire straits and in desperate need of adoptive and foster parents.

HB 28, which will dismantle the margin franchise tax and end one of the state's biggest revenue sources, passed out of the House on April 28 in a 96-39 vote and now heads to the Senate. Bill author Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, has continually ignored challenges that its removal will blow a massive hole in future state budgets, especially in school finances, and offered no viable alternative funding mechanism.

Eminent domain reforms in SB 740 took a massive blow this week after several of the state's biggest landowner bodies withdrew their support. Groups including the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association and the Texas Farm Bureau supported the plan two weeks ago when it passed out of committee, but when the Senate voted out a modified version on May 2, they attacked the latest version for ignoring property rights. Expect a bruising fight as it heads to the House.

The Senate approved Austin Sen. Kirk Watson's SB 966, which would provide amnesty for sexual assault victims or witnesses who report sexual assault if they were drinking underage at the time of the incident. The bill now moves to the House, as part of a package of legislation by Watson, seeking to protect rape survivors.

While all eyes were on SB 4, the Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs & Border Security slid through another potentially dangerous immigration-related bill to the full House. SB 1018 by Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, lets private prison companies license their detention centers as "child care facilities" while evading certain state regulations. If passed, families could be detained longer, and minors would be allowed to share jail cells with unrelated adults.

Sen. Joan Huffman's SB 576, the anti-rape bill that's sure to backfire by silencing rape survivors in an effort to have all college campus rapes reported, has moved into the House and, on Monday, May 1, was referred to the Higher Education Committee.

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