The Austin Chronicle

LGBTQ Forces Prevail at Capitol – For Now

One religious liberty bill dies; another moves forward

By Sarah Marloff, May 17, 2019, News

Updated Friday, May 17, 4:30pm:

The House State Affairs Committee, on Friday, May 17, voted out Senate Bill 1978, best known as the #SaveChickFilA bill. It's now en route to the full House. See our latest "#SaveChickFilA Bill Moves Closer to Adoption in a Blow to LGBTQ Rights."

Updated Thursday, May 16, 10:20am:

On Wednesday evening as the Chronicle was going to print, Senate Bill 1978 passed out of the full Senate. Known as the #SaveChickFilA bill, SB 1978 would protect people and businesses who've donated to or are affiliated with a religious organization from being penalized by city or government officials for that relationship even if the organization is known to discriminate against the LGBTQ community or others. Now the bill heads to the House.

Like the Night King reanimating dead Dothraki, Sen. Bryan Hughes resurrected the #SaveChickFilA bill, which the House LGBTQ Caucus successfully defeated late last Thursday, May 9. HB 3172 by Rep. Matt Krause, R-Ft. Worth, hoped to provide a license to discriminate on religious grounds to businesses such as the fast-food chain, which was blocked by San Antonio City Council from opening an airport location due to its longstanding anti-LGBTQ connections. The bill moved out of the House State Affairs Committee on May 2 after a contentious all-night public hearing, but freshman Rep. Julie Johnson, D-Carrollton, used a point of order to stop it dead in its tracks.

On Monday, May 13, Hughes dusted off his companion bill and pushed it through the Senate's State Affairs Committee (which he sits on); with no notice, SB 1978 was reported out of a nearly empty room – according to Equality Texas, only two senators and no members of the public were in attendance at the time. Calling the First Amendment the "heart" of SB 1978, Hughes described the would-be law as an assurance that "individuals' religious beliefs are protected from discrimination," and said that it "ensures governmental entities can't take adverse actions against anyone based wholly or partially" on their membership, connection to, or support of religious organizations. Hughes also applauded Krause's work on HB 3172, which was edited to slightly narrow its scope after its hearing, and reportedly hopes to make similar changes to his bill when it comes to the Senate floor. Samantha Smoot, Equality Texas' interim executive director, predicts that will happen this Thursday, May 16, where the bill will likely pass on a party-line vote, but SB 1978 will again have to be approved in committee and by the full House by 11:59pm Sunday night to move to the governor's desk.

Also, on Tuesday, May 14, House State Affairs voted out the final three bills filed by Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, seeking to limit Texas cities' ability to regulate private employers. Along their bumpy journey through the Lege, Creighton's SBs 2485-2488 – the four offspring of what had been one omnibus attack on local control to protect workers' rights – have been amended to definitively exempt local nondiscrimination ordinances that protect LGBTQ Texans. But, Smoot warns, "Until lawmakers gavel out on May 27, I'm concerned that we can be traded." Meanwhile, SB 17, the bill to let all state-licensed professionals refuse service on religious grounds, seems to have stalled out in the House after flying through the Senate...

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