Texas” 2013 legislative session

Our convention’s legislative agenda for 2013 is pretty similar to previous years when Texas’ lawmakers migrated to Austin for a few months. Convention messengers have spoken on a selection of issues related to religious liberty, strong families, and wholesome communities. Our convention speaks when one of our priorities can be advanced or defended. Convention priorities are set by our resolutions, statement of faith, and other places where our churches or their messengers have expressed an opinion on a timely subject. We’re not likely then to weigh in on toll road expansion or governance of the University of Texas, but when an issue about which Texas Southern Baptists are close to a consensus arises, there we are. Here are a few subjects we’re following, along with some sample bills that are under consideration.

Marriage and Family—The Texas Constitution defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. Some want to amend this understanding at local and state levels but those efforts won’t succeed until Texas is a far different place. More positively, some lawmakers are hoping to strengthen real marriage.

HB 1673 proposes to clarify already existing legislation that encourages “covenant marriage.” Our current law is pretty vague and offers marrying couples the option of calling their marriage a covenant. The current effort adds language to ensure that wives will not be trapped in abusive relationships. It also specifies a commitment to both pre-marital and pre-divorce counseling. It reads as a first step toward unwinding no-fault divorce. Stronger marriages will help us avoid novel definitions of the institution.

HB 1057 is called the Texas Parental Control Accountability Act and would allow parents more say over the instruction of their children on the subject of sexuality. It would prohibit abortion providers, such as Planned Parenthood, from providing sex education or materials through our public schools. Parents would have to opt in if their children are to receive sex education from any outside person or organization.

HB 1568 responds to efforts to pull apart the Texas defense of marriage amendment by passing local ordinances, as was the case when the Pflugerville I.S.D. approved domestic partnership benefits for employees. The bill would deny healthcare funding for school districts that offer benefits to those who are not employees, or spouses or children of employees.

Sanctity of Life—Texas is a pro-life state. Efforts to turn Texas “blue” are not entirely about electing Democrats to national positions. Our pro-life tradition is also a threat to the liberal and growing anti-family movement in our country. If Texas turns blue on this issue, it won’t be in 2013.

SB 97 attempts to regulate the distribution of abortion-causing drugs, so-called morning after pills or “plan B” medicines. Under this bill, providers of these abortifacients would be required to adhere to FDA standards for prescribing and use of these drugs. It should be shocking to us how often the purveyors of this nasty business want to hide behind the respectability of the medical profession, until they’re required to play by the same rules as doctors.

HB 309 would prohibit sex-selection abortions. I must pause here and call attention to the fact that I just wrote that in our nation, abortions intended to choose the sex of a child by aborting the one you already have, usually a girl, are common enough to require prohibition. And in some states, an effort to ban sex-selection abortions would be more controversial than it will here.

SB25, a fetal pain act similar to what several other states have passed appeared a few days before the filing deadline. The governor has pledged support for legislation that would ban abortions at the point, often designated as 20 weeks, when a child in the womb can feel the pain of the abortion. Arkansas is the most recent state to pass such a law. Anyone who genuinely considers abortion to be regrettable or a last ditch response to a problem pregnancy will support a fetal pain act. Those who’ve never met an abortion they didn’t favor, or profit from, will not support a law that protects even creatures they consider subhuman from cruel treatment we wouldn’t allow for a dog. This will likely be a marquee bill for pro-lifers in this session.

Religious Liberty—The U.S. Constitution counts the freedom of a person to believe as he wishes to be a foundational freedom. And of course, the expression of that freedom in speech, assembly, written and published form, and in religious practice follows naturally from our freedom to believe a thing. The priests of secular religion are increasingly aggressive when a town allows a Nativity scene on the courthouse lawn or when high school cheerleaders use a verse of Scripture on a banner. They are also aggressive in another way when their faith is challenged in classrooms or text books by other faiths, even by the fair description of other theories. These cases have arisen often enough to prompt legal responses.

HB 285 says that public institutions cannot discriminate against faculty members or students who espouse intelligent design or conduct research related to that theory. That discrimination surely does take place and is especially harmful to professional academics. If this bill passes it will throw a big rock in the puddle of most college faculties.

HB 360 is apparently a response to events in other states wherein Christian student organizations were required to allow members who do not share the defining convictions of the organizations. Imagine PETA being required to allow hunters and butchers into their happy fellowship. This bill would withdraw state funding from any institution that so persecutes a student organization. The claim of the bill is that such actions violate the First Amendment rights of the students, and they do. 

Gambling—I’m told it’s easier to kill a bill than to birth it. That makes sense when you consider that filed bills outnumber signed ones by three or four to one. Gambling bills are those we would love to see killed. While I think one could make a case that gambling is a personal morality issue related to stewardship, obsession, materialism, and personal responsibility, it is without a doubt an issue that bears on the health and stability of our communities. The gambling industry would be much less prosperous, and less attractive, without problem gamblers. Problem gamblers neglect their families, defraud creditors, lose their jobs, pawn their wives’ jewelry, and go bankrupt. It is foolish to want more of it in our communities. It is immoral for us to consider expanded gambling a solution for a public revenue shortfall.

HB 109, HR 27 and SB 55 all bring up the biennial effort to legalize video gambling. At one time, the horse and dog tracks in Texas were going to save us all from bankruptcy. Now the argument is that video gambling is needed save the horse track, and accompanying equine industries. And, oh yeah, it will also provide more money for schools, after big gambling gets paid. The fact that these efforts come early and often is no reflection that Texas needs the money or that the reps involved are losing sleep over classrooms without enough laptops. It reflects the fact that a lot of money is behind the gambling industry. Their favorite lawmakers are diligent. If the legislature gets nervous about money this zombie issue will shuffle into the chamber and receive a serious hearing. I don’t think it will this year but we must always pay attention. Legalized gambling is not the worst idea elected officials have ever supported but a lot of terrible and destructive ideas are not the worst one.

We should all appreciate the work and service of our elected leaders, even those with whom we disagree on occasion. Obedience to God requires that we pray for them; so does simple gratitude. While we’re being grateful, let’s thank God that we live in a state where so many of our elected leaders share our convictions. Our opportunities to reach Texas and touch the world are enhanced by the political climate in our particular mission field.

Gary Ledbetter
Southern Baptist Texan
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