85th Session Overview Part II – The Sequel

June 5, 2017

Note: For part I of our regular session overview, click here.

Religious Liberty Victory

As promised, we have some GREAT news for religious liberty! Last week, Governor Abbott signed HB 3859 by Representative James Frank and sponsored by Senator Charles Perry. The bill protects faith-based providers from being targets of discrimination or litigation if they do not refer girls for abortion or if they only place children in homes with a married mother and father.

One-fourth of all foster care agencies in Texas are faith-based, but there has been a trend nationally of religious placement organizations closing as the result of being forced to deny their beliefs. Because of the crisis in state-run foster care, faith-based providers have been asked to do more to help care for foster children. Many faith-based providers want to do so, but before HB 3859, state law did not protect them from being targets of grant discrimination or litigation.

In Texas, Catholic Charities has suspended their many of their foster care services, and Buckner International has withheld expansion because they are concerned about the growing threats and attacks against the religious beliefs of child welfare providers. Rep. Scott Sanford, a joint author of HB 3859, filed a similar bill called the “HOME Act” (Hope for Orphans and Minors Expansion Act) this session and last session as well. We applaud our legislators for protecting religious liberty!

More Victories for Religious Liberty

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed another bill last week that includes language giving County Clerks the freedom to leave their names off marriage licenses and marriage applications. HB 555 is a bill pertaining to marriage license applications authored by Rep. Drew Springer and was amended to include language stating that a county can “allow, but may not require” County Clerks to have their names appear on a marriage license application and the County Clerk’s name may be left off the marriage license.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court overruled state laws on marriage in 2015, numerous County Clerks have faced difficulty and even jail time after objecting to certain marriages on religious grounds, such as Rowan County, Kentucky County Clerk, Kim Davis.

In the regular session, Texas Values supported and promoted SB 522 by Sen. Brian Birdwell, which protects county clerks who have sincerely held religious beliefs on marriage the right to defer marriage license-related duties (including administering an oath, certifying the application, issuing the license, etc.) to someone else when necessary. Numerous County Clerks and Justices of the Peace presented testimony on this bill in legislative committees. SB 522 passed the Senate but died in the House.

With bipartisan support in the House and Senate, the HB 555 was amended to include language similar to SB 911 by Sen. Joan Huffman. Texas Values also supported SB 911 during the regular legislative session as part of an effort to address a portion of the threat under which many County Clerks and Justices of the Peace operate because of their religious beliefs on marriage.

Church Securities Protection Act Passed

Earlier this session, Representative Matt Rinaldi filed HB 421, the Church Securities Protection Act. The bill ensured churches would be able to have a church security team without incurring burdensome licensing fees, or fines, from the state. The language was added as an amendment to SB 2065 by Senator Kelly Hancock. We applaud Representative Rinaldi, Concerned Women for America of Texas, Texas Eagle Forum, and Southern Baptist of Texas Convention for working to make sure this language is now state law!

Education Victory

This past session, the Texas Values team worked to ensure dangerous language was not attached to the final version of education bill SB 801 by Senator Kel Seliger. The bill addresses classroom materials in public schools. A dangerous amendment by Representative Alma Allen was added during the session that would have taken away the authority of the State Board of Education to approve classroom materials and given that authority to an unelected group appointed by the TEA Commissioner. The amendment contained language would have excluded the input of experienced subject experts and instead used “requirements” that are often used to favor liberal academia to approve classroom materials instead. After the Texas Values team worked with Senators, the amendment was removed from the final legislation. SB 801 has been signed by Gov. Abbott.

The Special Session Preview

Mark your calendars! The special session begins July 18, 2017. Gov. Greg Abbott recently announced that privacy will be on the call for the special session, along with 19 other issues, including pro-life legislation. Gov. Abbott said the privacy issue, as well as the other legislative items on the call, will be eligible for consideration after the Texas Senate drafts and approves unfinished Sunset bills for agencies set to expire. The Texas Values team will be on the ground every day at the Capitol advocating for the privacy, safety, and dignity of Texans and public schools and government buildings. Stay tuned for more details!

Read our Special Session recap here and here.

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