This week began with the Texas Freedom Network mobilizing supporters of public education, family planning, LGBT rights and religious freedom for big battles at the Texas Capitol. We’re happy to report good news on a number of fronts, but hard work remains ahead of us.
On Thursday the Texas House voted overwhelmingly, 103-43, to bar spending any public dollars on voucher schemes that subsidize tuition at private and religious schools. This is the third time in the last four legislative sessions that House members have slammed the door on private school vouchers. TFN is still working to block voucher bills being pushed in the Senate.
Two years after the Texas House declared war on birth control, House members this week passed a state budget that reverses most of those funding cuts to family planning services for low-income women. Your calls and emails to lawmakers helped stop any repeat of the frenzy to cut family planning funds that occurred during House debate of the budget in 2011. TFN will continue to monitor this critical issue as the House and Senate budget bills go to a conference committee.
An effort to amend the budget to eliminate state funding for LGBT resource, gender and sexuality centers on state university and college campuses collapsed in the House. Student activists from the University of Houston, including TFN’s UH Student Chapter President James Lee, helped mobilize opposition to that discriminatory measure. Additionally, Senate Bill 237, which would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression, was left pending in the Senate Economic Development Committee. Our friends at Equality Texas have more on how you can support this important bill.
A couple of worrisome religious liberty bills are making their way through House and Senate committees. TFN is monitoring all of them and will keep you updated on changes.
A proposed “religious freedom” amendment to the Texas Constitution — HJR 110 — pushed by religious-right groups faced a skeptical House State Affairs Committee. Opponents noted that the amendment would actually threaten an existing law protecting religious freedom in Texas. Moreover, the overly broad terminology in this amendment could create all sorts of unintended consequences and would undoubtedly lead to expensive litigation. The bill was left pending in the committee.
SB 1639, a bill aimed at the mythical threat of Islamic law (Sharia) in Texas, received a surprisingly thoughtful hearing the Senate Business and Commerce Committee this week. The committee heard testimony from a number of interfaith groups as well as family law experts, all of whom provided compelling testimony that the measure is unnecessary and primarily motivated by groups promoting bigotry against Muslim Americans. The bill was left pending in committee.
With less than two months left in the current session, keep your eye on TFN Insider for continuing legislative news.