85th Session Overview – The Good, the Bad, and the Downright Awful

June 1, 2017

For the past 5 months, our team (pictured above) has been at the Capitol every day working to advance faith, family, and freedom during the 85th Texas Legislative Session. We are excited to announce that two out of our top three priorities have been accomplished including passing a dismemberment abortion ban, and protecting religious freedom. We also knew that the Left would be relentless in attacking life, human sexuality, and religious freedom. Our team was on the ground testifying before committees, supporting and opposing bills, educating legislators and staff on the issues, and alerting our supporters on how to make a difference. We defeated every bill seeking to attack religious liberty and every bill that tried to advance the LGBT movement. Now with the legislature in recess, the Governor signing and vetoing bills, and a special session expected to be called sometime this summer, we thought we would take a moment and take inventory of the good bills, the bad bills, and the downright awful ones.

The Good

The good news is that there have been great victories to protect the unborn! One of our top pro-life priorities was amended on SB 8 by Sen. Charles Schwertner. Rep. Stephanie Klick added an amendment, originally a bill by Rep. Klick (HB 844) and Sen. Charles Perry (SB 415) that bans the practice of dismemberment abortions, a barbaric procedure that dismembers a child in the womb while his or her heart is still beating. SB 8 also now ensures strong enforcement at the state level to stop partial-birth abortions, prohibits the sale of baby body parts, and honors the human dignity of aborted children by burying or cremating their remains, rather than disposing them in sewer systems. During the interim, our team supported David Daleiden’s work to expose Planned Parenthood for selling baby body parts and testified in favor of the Department of State Health Services’ rule that recognizes the human dignity of aborted children. Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to sign SB 8 which includes the dismemberment abortion ban.

Planned Parenthood Funding Cut

During the budget debate, our team informed legislators on pro-family amendments, as well as which amendments attacked pro-family values. Pro-life victories during the budget debates included amendments worked on by Rep. Matt Rinaldi, Rep. Matt Schaefer, and Rep. Drew Springer that protect taxpayer dollars from going to abortion providers and their affiliates like Planned Parenthood. Rep. Mike Schofield and Rep. Matt Krause worked to ensure an increase of funding in the budget for the Alternatives to Abortion program. The budget conferees agreed to increase the program’s funding an additional $20 million after the allocated $18.3 million is spent. There were several amendments on privacy and gender identity issues in the budget as well, but some of them, such as Rep. Valoree Swanson’s, were withdrawn to ensure that pro-life amendments were added to the budget. We commend our conservative legislators for working to protect privacy, safety, and dignity and using their work to help bring pro-life victories. We are also thankful that Rep. Tony Tinderholt and other conservative leaders added an amendment to HB 100, the state-wide ridesharing (Uber) bill, defining sex as “the physical condition of being male or female.”

Conservatives also defeated dangerous budget amendments like Rep. Thomas Uresti’s which attacked abstinence education, and Rep. Donna Howard’s which singled out faith-based child welfare providers for government regulation that was not required of other child welfare providers. Other defeated amendments included Rep. Chris Turner’s attempt to take money from the Alternatives to Abortion program and give it to “Family Planning Services” (aka Planned Parenthood). Rep. Diana Arévalo’s attempt to attack on the “Women’s Right to Know” booklet, which explains the dangers of abortion to women, was also defeated with our help.

Religious Liberty Advancements

There was some important advancements for religious liberty this session. Just two weeks ago, our team was honored to attend the Gov. Abbott’s signing of SB 24, the Sermon Protection Act, by Sen. Joan Huffman. SB 24 protects Texas pastors’ sermons from being subpoenaed. Sen. Huffman requested for our team to testify in support of the legislation to bring our expertise to the discussion. Texas Values President Jonathan Saenz reminded the committee of the five Houston pastors whose sermons were subpoenaed by Houston Mayor Annise Parker. Mayor Parker issued those subpoenas in retaliation after the pastors spoke out against a dangerous and unnecessary ordinance that allowed men into women’s bathrooms.

Rep. Matt Krause and the newly formed “Freedom Caucus” worked hard to successfully add amendments to bills to protect the exercise of religious freedom for lawyers and nurses in Texas. We applaud them for their continual stand to protect our First Amendment freedoms.

We have even more exciting religious liberty victories coming from the legislative session, so stay tuned.

The Bad

The bad news is that the House refused to pass a bill to protect the privacy, safety, and dignity of Texans in public schools and government buildings– but it was not due to lack of effort by the Senate or conservative House members. In March, the Senate passed SB 6, the Texas Privacy Act by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst. SB 6 makes it clear that men and boys cannot be in girls’ showers, locker rooms, or bathrooms in public schools or government buildings. But even with plenty of time to act, House leadership refused to even refer SB 6 to a committee.

The House also had their own version of a privacy bill, HB 2899 by Rep. Ron Simmons, which gained 80 co-authors. The bill was stopped by Republican State Affairs Chair Rep. Byron Cook who refused to let the committee vote on it. House members like Rep. Matt Schaefer, Rep. Briscoe Cain, and Rep. Tony Tinderholt were champions on the floor who used every opportunity available to remind the House and the House leadership that the privacy issue must be addressed.

At the last minute, House leadership tried to tack on an amendment to a bill on the floor, but that language was never shown ahead of time to conservatives, nor to our team, and does not address the growing problem of school districts that are allowing boys into girls’ showers, locker rooms, and bathrooms. [Watch our take on the amendment here]

Standing alone, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus confirmed in a press conference last week that the House would not budge on the privacy issue. Thankfully, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick responded to Straus with nearly the entire Senate Republican Caucus backing him up to explain that there was still time for the House to move on the Privacy Act. The Lt. Gov. also said that if the House still refused to act, he would request for Gov. Abbott to call a special session and to include the privacy issue. Gov. Abbott has said he will make an announcement on a special session this week. We will keep you updated as this situation continues to develop, so be sure to stay connected with us.

The Downright Awful

There were some terribly awful bills that were supported and even authored by Republicans! As much as the other side said that we shouldn’t focus on the “bathroom issue,” that didn’t stop them from filing their own bills to force men into women’s facilities. For instance, HB 192 by Rep. Diego Bernal codified “gender identity” as it relates to housing – including homeless shelters. Texas Values President Jonathan Saenz warned the committee that the bill would force homeless shelters to allow men claiming to be women into the women’s sleeping quarters and intimate facilities. Jonathan also explained that the bill would punish religious groups, and even nuns, if they refused to allow men into women’s housing. Sadly, HB 192 was sent to the Calendars Committee because Rep. Jason Villalba — a Republican — sided with Democrats to vote the bill out of committee.

Another bill, HB 225 by Democratic Rep. Eric Johnson, would have forced business owners to allow men into women’s bathrooms at work, provide health benefits for same-sex couples, or even pay for same-sex surgeries. Even though Texas Values Policy Analyst Nicole Hudgens exposed the problems of this bill, HB 225 was sent to Calendars as well because Rep. Villalba (yes, him again) sided with Democrats to vote it out of committee.

Last but not least, HB 1373 by Rep. Sarah Davis – a Republican – took away parental rights by allowing certain minors to get full-on access to any “FDA-approved” birth control without parental consent. As Hudgens explained in committee, FDA-approved birth control includes sterilization, as well as methods that can lead to significant harm and even death. Davis’ bill was voted out of Republican Byron Cook’s State Affairs Committee and sent to the Calendars Committee. Thankfully, none of these bills made it to the House floor. These bills should have never been voted out, or even authored, by Republicans in the first place as it defies their party’s platform.

It Gets Worse

What’s worse than bad bills being sent out of committee? The fact that good bills did not pass because of House leadership. One bill that did not get to the House floor was SB 522 by Senator Brian Birdwell. The bill passed the Senate in April and ensured Texas county clerks and justices of the peace would not be forced to issue marriage licenses that violate their sincerely held religious beliefs. SB 522 allowed clerks and justices of the peace to defer the signing of a marriage license or fulfilling a ceremony request to another county employee. You may recall how Hood County Clerk (TX) Katie Lang was sued because she declined to issue a same-sex marriage license (even though the couple received a license). Other Texas clerks and judges have been threatened or been forced to retire because they have declined to issue same-sex licenses due to their sincerely held religious beliefs.

After a month delay, the House State Affairs Committee heard Rep. Dan Flynn’s House companion to SB 522 (HB 1813), but the committee did not vote the bill out until the last minute. The State Affairs Committee also delayed sending a report to the Calendars Committee, and the bill was never voted on by Calendars to be sent to the floor. Other bills like HB 522 by Rep. Mike Schofield, which protected homeowner’s from HOA regulations against religious liberty displays, like Christmas decorations, sat in Calendars Committee for a month and was never voted out.

Speaking of the State Affairs Committee, other religious freedom bills like Rep. Matt Krause’s First Amendment Defense Act, HB 1923, or Rep. Matt Schaeffer’s Free to Believe Act, HB 2779, never even received a hearing.

We Are Not Done Fighting

Thankfully, the battle is not over and we are in the fight for faith, family, and freedom for the long haul! We are thankful for the hard work of pro-family legislators and our coalition partners that continue to stand strong for faith, family, and freedom in Texas. We also had a great turnout for our Faith and Family Day where hundreds of Texans came from all across the state to learn and advocate pro-family values at the Capitol. There are momentous victories to be thankful for, and certainly more ground to gain. Our team stands ready to go into a special session to continue and complete the fight to protect privacy, safety, and dignity for all Texans.

Will you help us protect Texans in public schools and government buildings? Contact Gov. Abbott’s Office TODAY and urge him to call a special session to address the privacy issue!

Keeping a watchful eye at the Texas Capitol every day and maintaining an office just two blocks away is no easy task. Will you consider a donation to help keep our efforts to stomp out the bad and awful bills of the next Legislative session? Thank you!

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