87th Texas Legislature wraps up till fall sessions

AUSTIN—The 87th Session of the Texas Legislature closed at the end of May but unfinished business will draw lawmakers back to Austin in the fall for two more sessions. New laws protecting unborn babies from abortion and promoting criminal justice reform highlight some of the pro-life, SBTC-backed legislation. But key bills failed to get a hearing and must be addressed in one of the upcoming special sessions according to Cindy Asmussen, an SBTC advisor.

As of June 9, Gov. Greg Abbott had not set a date for either special session.

During one of the upcoming sessions lawmakers will redraw voting district boundaries based on data from the 2020 U.S. Census. That information has been delayed due to modifications in data processing. But, according to the U.S. Census press office, “states are expected to receive redistricting data by August 16, and the full redistricting data with toolkits for ease of use will be delivered by September 30.”

After studying the data, Texas lawmakers will meet, possibly in October, to draw voting districts.

When the regular session ended May 31 without passing bills related to bail bond reform, social media censorship and election reform, Abbott pledged to call a special session to finish that work.

A special session lasts 30 days and the governor determines what bills will be addressed. But Asmussen, SBTC advisor to the Texas Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee, urged Texans to contact the governor to press for consideration of life-affirming, religious liberty and transgender bills that failed in the regular session.

Bills failed

High on the TERLC priority list are bills addressing the rapid, unchecked promotion of transgender ideology by medical associations, public schools and influential corporations.

Texas lawmakers introduced bills as proactive measures against the Equality Act looming in Congress. If passed, the law would add gender identity and sexual orientation to the list of protected classes in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Equality Act includes no provisions for religious or conscience objections—in contravention to the First Amendment.

We need freedom of conscience bills. [Bills] protecting girls sports and protecting children, protecting against gender modification procedures on minors. We need these things protected in Texas law from what we’re being threatened with on the federal level.

Cindy Asmussen, SBTC advisor Tweet

“That’s what’s so egregious coming out of this session,” Asmussen said. “We need freedom of conscience bills. [Bills] protecting girls sports and protecting children, protecting against gender modification procedures on minors. We need these things protected in Texas law from what we’re being threatened with on the federal level,” she said.

Some bills sought to protect people who could lose their professional licenses and their jobs for not affirming the gender identity of children and adults.

Other potential losers this session include female athletes forced to compete against biological males who identify as female. House Bill 1458, the Fair Play in Women’s Sports Act, is comparable to laws passed in seven states and would have required public school and university athletes to compete on teams based on their biological sex. The measure had 77 co-authors yet failed to pass.

“This is a no-brainer,” said Asmussen. “Other states are blazing a trail in front of us and we’re not even pulling up the rear on this.”

Asmussen questioned whether pressure from outside Texas stopped the bill in its tracks.

“I think we need to go back and look at bills like this and we need to look at campaign donations,” Asmussen told the TEXAN.

Her suspicion is not unfounded.

Days before the Texas legislature gaveled to a close, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill protecting female athletes from competing against biological males despite warnings from the National Collegiate Athletic Association. In April, the NCAA reaffirmed its commitment to transgender athletes and threatened to direct championship tournaments away from locations that “cannot commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination” and “welcoming and respectful of all participants.”

One bill that would have prohibited the medical “transition” of minors was House Bill 68, the Innocence Protection Act. It also labeled as “child abuse” the prescription of puberty blockers to children and the surgical removal of children’s and teenagers’ healthy reproductive organs.

House Bill 1424 would have provided protection for doctors who refuse to provide such gender treatments. The measure failed.

Asmussen was grateful for the demise of some bills. Dozens of lobbyists wagered their influence could influence lawmakers to legalize casino and online gambling in Texas. Their efforts failed.

What passed

Despite the demise of some key legislation, Asmussen and Rep. Scott Sanford, R- McKinney highlighted TERLC-supported bills that made it to the governor for his signature.

Most notably, Abbott signed Senate Bill 8, the Heartbeat Bill.  The law prohibits abortions once a baby’s heartbeat is detected. Several states have passed similar bills in hopes of challenging Roe v. Wade at the Supreme Court. The Texas law’s unique enforcement mechanism allows private citizens to file complaints against abortionists for violating the law.

The Trigger Abortion Ban will ban the procedure in Texas if the Supreme Court overturns all or part of Roe v. Wade. That ruling began as a Texas lawsuit when “Jane Roe” challenged the state’s abortion ban. The high court’s 1972 ruling effectively abolished laws against abortion nationwide.

In an effort to usurp the controversial ideology of critical race theory making its way into public school curriculum, lawmakers passed House Bill 3979. The law shores up the required social studies curriculum with writings and documents representing the historical figures and significant events in American history without glossing over the nation’s troubled history regarding race and women’s suffrage.

“The bill is substantive enough that they can’t teach the critical pieces of critical race theory. The whole idea of the bill was to say ‘No’ to critical race theory, however, teach the complete and unvarnished truth of history,” Sanford said.

Pandemic push-back

Early in the pandemic, local and state authorities hastily drafted COVID-19 mitigation rules that ran afoul of state and federal constitutions, particularly as they relate to the freedom of worship. In response, Texas lawmakers passed House Bill 525.

The law states: “Notwithstanding any other law, a religious organization is an essential business at all times in this state, including during a declared state of disaster, and the organization’s religious and other related activities are essential activities even if the activities are not listed as essential in an order issued during the disaster.”

A joint resolution sent to the Office of the Secretary of State proposes a constitutional amendment essentially codifying House Bill 525 in the Texas Constitution.

An especially draconian rule enacted by long-term nursing care facilities barred all but staff from entering those facilities during the pandemic. The rule separated ailing—and sometimes dying—patients from family members.

Bills offered by Democrats and Republicans sought to remedy this problem. Senate Bill 25 is the result. It ensures patients have the right to “essential caregiver” visits.

“It is the intent of the legislature to ensure that residents of long-term care facilities and other residences have a guaranteed right to visitation by family members, friends, caregivers, and other individuals. The legislature expects facilities and program providers to ensure that the guaranteed visitation rights are available to residents every day of each year, consistent with existing resident rights,” the law states.

Those visits can be limited, but not disallowed, during a declared public health crisis.

Senate Joint Resolution 19 was also sent to the Secretary of State’s office for a vote by Texans. 

Lawmakers came together for a majority of the bills, Sanford said.

“The ones that are of particular interest to Christians, I think, are coming together for criminal justice reforms,” he said.

Sanford’s bill, the Bonton Farms Act, eliminates many of the fees and fines that accumulate over the years while someone is in prison.

“And when they get out, they’re not able to get those paid off in order to get a drivers license, in order to get a job. And so, they will get credit for time served against those fees and fines that accumulated from warrants that preceded their incarceration,” Sanford said.

Republicans and Democrats also passed laws banning choke holds and “no-knock warrants” by law enforcement.

For more legislative analysis, visit the Texas Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee’s website at sbtexas.com/terlc.  

TEXAN Correspondent
Bonnie Pritchett
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