Texas lawmakers call it a push for conservative values. Critics call it discrimination.
In a flurry of activity before the state’s legislative session wraps May 29, Texas lawmakers are pushing through controversial bills that affect children and touch on hot-button issues of sexuality and religion.
On Sunday, the state Senate passed a bill that would allow adoption agencies to turn away potential parents they find objectionable on religious grounds. The bill already had House approval and now goes to Gov. Greg Abbott for his signature.
And lawmakers weren’t done. The same day, the Texas House of Representatives approved a limited “bathroom bill” that would require public high school students to use restrooms that match the gender on their birth certificates. The measure now goes back to the Senate, which previously approved a broader version mandating that standard for everyone using public restrooms.
Abbott had made the issue a priority for the legislative session. Meanwhile, Texas lawmakers also have proposed bills or amendments allowing “religious liberty” exemptions for lawyers, pharmacists and nurses.
Opponents of the bills, who say they target vulnerable children, are outraged. One critic on Twitter called it “discrimination Sunday.”
The battle, and the rhetoric, should only heat up before the legislative session ends next week.
Civil rights advocates denounced the measures as discriminatory.
“Fresh off its passage of the most anti-immigrant legislation in the nation, the Texas legislature this weekend turned its attention to targeting women and children,” said Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas.
“With the passage of sweeping abortion restrictions and two measures authorizing discrimination against LGBTQ families and kids, our lawmakers seem determined to make discrimination Texas’s chief export.”
The Texas Freedom Network is a group of community leaders who support religious freedom and individual liberties. It says lawmakers this session have introduced measures that would let:
County employees refuse to grant marriage licenses over religious objections.
Nurses refuse to care for gay patients; withhold information on emergency contraception from a rape victim; and tell a male head of household about a woman’s medical conditions. Pharmacists refuse to fill birth control and hormone therapy prescriptions. Lawyers put their own religious beliefs above the interests of clients.
Earlier in the session Abbott had insisted the legislature pass bathroom legislation.
On Sunday Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, added the bathroom wording to a school safety and security bill.
“There is absolutely no intent and I would argue nothing in this language discriminates against anyone,” Paddie said. “In fact, it makes sure there are reasonable accommodations for all children.”
A broader bathroom bill became law in North Carolina last year and brought condemnation from business leaders and athletic organizations. After numerous entertainers and sports associations canceled major events in the state, North Carolina lawmakers repealed the bill in March.
The Texas House hopes to avoid a similar backlash with its schools-only version, reported CNN affiliate TV station KTRK in Houston.
Deirdre Doughty, mother of a transgender girl, was at the legislative session Sunday and told CNN affiliate TV station KXAN the bill could put her child in danger.
“I wish other people could understand the issues involved and the fact that my daughter is a child, a daughter, a human being, like everyone else,” Doughty said. “She’s not asking for special treatment. She just wants to be treated like her peers are.”
A controversial legislative session
Earlier in this session, Texas lawmakers passed other bills that made headlines.
Assuming Abbot signs it, the “religious liberty” bill will allow adoption agencies to turn away potential parents. Senators passed a bill that could keep transgender kids out of high school sports. Abbott already has signed a bill banning sanctuary cities.
And just to make a point about male lawmakers regulating women’s health care, Rep. Jessica Farrar, a Democrat, proposed a bill to fine a man $100 every time he masturbates. The bill would impose a 24-hour waiting period for a man to get a colonoscopy, a vasectomy or Viagra.
Not amused was Republican Rep. Tony Tinderholt, who criticized Farrar and had recently proposed a bill that would charge abortion providers and women receiving abortions with murder.