Session Recap: Progress on Religious Freedom, Life but Missed Opportunities
Yesterday marked the end of Texas’ 84th Legislative Session at the state capitol. The session saw important progress made on religious freedom and life, an important stand against free speech attacks, and some missed opportunities to more robustly protect Texans’ freedoms and liberties.
Progress on Religious Freedom, Life
One of the notable highlights of the session was the passage of one of Texas Values Action’s priority religious freedom bills, the Pastor Protection Bill (SB 2065 sponsored by Sen. Craig Estes and Rep. Scott Sanford), that specifically protects pastors, churches and religious organizations from being forced to perform a same-sex ‘marriage’ that violates their beliefs. Despite strong opposition from anti-religious freedom groups, including the ACLU, Equality Texas, and Texas Freedom Network, the bill passed with overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate without any of the amendments aimed at watering-down the bill.
In an inspiring show of leadership and unity, Pastors from all over the state, representing millions of Texans, truly led the effort to pass the bill. The leadership of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, House Republican Caucus Chairman Tan Parker, Attorney General Ken Paxton, and the public support by Gov. Greg Abbott for SB 2065, were also key to the passage of this law. With this unprecedented activism by Texas pastors and churches, we certainly hope the groundwork has been laid for the much needed additional religious freedom protections that all Texans deserve.
Another victory was the passage of the priority pro-life bill supported by Texas Values Action, HB 3994 by Rep. Geanie Morrison, which protects pregnant minors and parents from the broken judicial bypass system. Current Texas Law requires both parental consent and notice before an elective abortion, but pregnant minors may get permission from a judge to undergo the abortion without any parental involvement. The abortion industry and activist pro-abortion lawyers have been abusing this judicial bypass process, and HB 3994 would close these harmful loopholes and better protect pregnant minors. View our press release on the session.
Failure to Prioritize Leads to Missed Opportunities
While some good bills passed, there were certainly missed opportunities to further protect religious freedom, marriage, and life that failed due to a lack of prioritization by some leaders in both the Texas House and Senate.
Important stand-alone bills protecting state sovereignty over marriage (HB 4105 by Rep. Cecil Bell, Jr.) and protecting religious freedom of child welfare providers and adoption agencies (HOME Bill, HB 3864 by Rep. Scott Sanford) were never taken up for votes in the Texas House, despite overwhelming support among members. Had these bills been scheduled for votes by the leadership of the Texas House in a timely manner, we are certain they would have passed despite overwhelming opposition from Democrats and LGBT advocacy groups. Because the original bills were not given a floor vote, the final opportunities for success came in the form of amendments to other bills in the last days of the session. Unfortunately, with anti-religious freedom Democrats determined to kill entire bills just to stop important religious freedom and marriage language, tight deadlines and a lack of prioritization effectively killed the bills.
The same held true for another important pro-life bill, SB 575 by Sen. Larry Taylor. SB 575 would have brought pro-life reform to the Texas insurance market by removing automatic coverage for abortion from health insurance plans to ensure Texans’ tax dollars and premiums would not be subsidizing abortion. SB 575 passed the Texas Senate in early May but the bill was weakened in the House and was not placed on the House Calendar by House leadership until the final day for Senate bills to pass, making it easier for Democrats to use stall tactics to run the clock out on the bill.
It is also notable that Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) withdrew his own religious freedom bill (HJR 55) half-way through the legislative session, after unexpected opposition to HJR 55 from the Texas Association of Business (TAB). Rep. Matt Krause ignored the TAB opposition to HJR 55 and filed his own identical religious freedom bill, HJR 125, after Rep. Villalba dropped out. TAB, a lobby group that sells itself as “conservative,” continued its assault on religious freedom and the values of Texas throughout the session as they made public their partnership with extreme liberal and LGBT advocacy groups Equality Texas, ACLU, and the Texas Freedom Network.
Numerous other religious freedom bills were filed but were not allowed to move. Specifically, several important bills failed to move in the Senate State Affairs Committee, chaired by Sen. Joan Huffman, including SB 1155. SB 1155 by Sen. Bob Hall, which would have allowed the state to preempt local ordinances on “discrimination” issues, like the Houston LGBT Ordinance, was important legislation that Senator Huffman refused to even schedule for a hearing.
Texans had every right to expect that these important bills would become law. Their widespread support among legislators and the activism of thousands of our grassroots activists across the state to support these efforts give us confidence that we can build even more momentum to protect religious freedom, marriage, and life in future sessions.
Free Speech Attacks by House Leadership Thwarted
In the last days of the session, a faction of Republicans voted with Democrats to pass SB 19, effectively gutting an actual ethics reform bill passed by the Senate and turning it into a bill attacking the First Amendment rights of Texans. The effort led by Rep. Byron Cook (R–Corsicana) and House leadership sought to use IRS-like tactics to silence and intimidate non-profits, and potentially churches, by requiring non-profits that attempt to engage in political speech to expose their donors, among many other unconstitutional provisions.
Thankfully, with the help of Texas Values Action and other conservative groups, SB 19 was ultimately defeated after its drastic changes in the House. The bill died when a compromise could not be reached with the Texas Senate after leaders in the Senate made it clear they would not accept any effort to “weaken the First Amendment, chill free speech, or restrict the ability of individuals to engage in the political or legislative process.” In line with the views of the Senate, Gov. Abbott told the press this week “that laws like that are unconstitutional” noting his writings on this topic when he was on the Texas Supreme Court. Last session, Gov. Rick Perry was forced to veto similar legislation stating it would have a “chilling effect” on First Amendment rights.
Sex-Education and Abstinence Victories, LGBT Agenda Fails
The session also saw important pro-family victories as it related to the state budget. The final passage of the state budget included an important Texas Values Action supported amendment (by Rep. Jeff Leach) that prohibits abortion providers or their affiliates from providing or teaching sex education classes or curriculum in public schools. An additional amendment (by Rep. Molly White) ensures the Texas Abstinence Program curricula and teaching are abstinence-based.
It is also of significance that all of the anti-family agenda (over 2 dozen bills) advanced by LGBT advocacy groups failed, including the much publicized effort to remove “Mother” and “Father” references from birth certificates (HB 537 by Democrat Rep. Rafael Anchia). Despite public support from Republican Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana), the bill never came up for a vote in the House. Several efforts to repeal our one man-one woman marriage laws went nowhere as well.
Help Support Texas Values Action
Texas Values Action was proud to be your advocate for faith, family, and freedom during the 84th Texas Legislative Session. Our success this session on many fronts is in no small part due to the efforts of thousands of our activists around the state engaging with their elected officials the last 140 days. Your continued activism and financial support is key to Texas Values Action and to the success of our great state.
June 30 is the end of our Fiscal Year. With all the resources we exhausted through the legislative session, we desperately need your financial support to help us cover our expenses and end our Fiscal Year strong. With local battles, a pending Supreme Court ruling on marriage, the need to educate Texans on the session and how their legislators voted, and the coming election season ahead of us, your generous financial support is greatly needed by June 30.