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Texas Senate approves occupational licensing bill LGBTQ advocates call a ‘license to discriminate’

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Sad gay man (Shutterstock)

After emotional testimony, a forceful show of opposition from leaders in the state’s business community and more than an hour of floor debate, the Texas Senate on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to a sweeping religious refusals bill, a priority proposal for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick that LGTBQ advocates have called a “license to discriminate.”

The measure, Lubbock Republican Charles Perry’s Senate Bill 17, would allow occupational license holders like social workers or lawyers to cite “sincerely held religious beliefs” when their licenses are at risk due to professional behavior or speech. It would also prevent licensing boards from enacting regulations that burden “an applicant’s or license holder’s free exercise of religion.” The bill does not protect police officers, first responders or doctors who refuse to provide life-saving care.

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After a heated debate, the measure passed on a 19–12 initial vote, with one Democrat, Sen. Eddie Lucio, voting for it, and one Republican, Sen. Kel Seliger, voting against. It requires one more vote in the Senate before it can be sent to the Texas House for debate.

Perry said the bill provides a defense for licensed professionals who find themselves before credentialing boards based on conduct or speech motivated by their “sincerely held religious beliefs” — a pre-emptive protection for religious employees at a time when, he claimed, religion is under attack.

But LGBTQ advocates and Democrats have criticized the bill as an attempt to give cover to those who would deny critical services to members of the LGBTQ community. Last week, leaders from major businesses like Amazon, Facebook and Google, as well as tourism officials from some of the state’s biggest cities, came out in force against the bill. Discriminating against LGBTQ communities is bad for business, they said.

Patrick, who has tagged Perry’s bill as one of his top 30 legislative priorities, defended it in the face of the business community’s criticism.

“Senate Bill 17 will ensure that anyone can practice their profession in Texas without being forced to compromise their religious faith,” Patrick spokesman Alejandro Garcia said last week.

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Equality Texas, an advocacy group, called the bill this session’s “number one threat to the LGBTQ community.”

During a lengthy floor debate, six Democrats and one Republican echoed those concerns.

“What if somebody said, ‘I am not going to provide a service because you are a gay couple?’” asked Seliger, an Amarillo Republican. “If somebody said, ‘You’re Muslim, I’m not going to provide this service’?… Doesn’t this bill essentially provide a defense of that discrimination or discriminatory behavior?”

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And Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, pointed to history, when “the practice of faith has been tied to a lot of hideous practices” — like prohibiting interracial marriages.

“The reality is that a lot of people have done things that were not consistent with being a Christian” while claiming religious motivation, West said.

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Perry insisted that “this bill does nothing to promote any illegal or discriminatory activity.”

In what he characterized as an effort to codify that, Sen. José Menéndez, a San Antonio Democrat, proposed an amendment to the bill that would explicitly prohibit professionals from refusing service based on gender identity or sexual orientation. Perry put it to a vote; the amendment failed 12–19.

“You know that saying, ‘You can put lipstick on a pig?’” asked Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston. “Sen. Perry, this is a discrimination bill.”

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When it came time to vote, Miles’ answer was clear: “No!” he shouted from the back of the chamber.

Disclosure: Amazon Web Services, Equality Texas, Facebook and Google have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.


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2020 Election

Trump officials could face criminal charges for USPS sabotage — and the president may not be able to pardon them

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Members of the Trump administration could face legal jeopardy over efforts to sabotage U.S. Postal Service operations to interfere with the 2020 presidential elections.

"Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ) made a criminal referral to the New Jersey Attorney General on Friday night, asking him to impanel a grand jury to look at possible breach of state election laws by President Trump, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and others for 'their accelerating arson of the post office,' he said. Alarming headlines have emerged in recent days as many states prepare to facilitate widespread mail balloting due to the coronavirus pandemic. President Trump openly admitted he was withholding federal aid from the postal service to prevent mail-in voting, and USPS has notified 46 states and D.C. that it will struggle to deliver some mail ballots on time," The Daily Beast reported Friday.

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Maddow reveals how one state stood up to Trump’s USPS cuts — and won

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MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow's opening segment on Friday focused on a positive story of political pressure stopping one of the Trump administration's attacks on the U.S. Postal Service.

Maddow reported how NBC Montana reporter Maritsa Georgiou had doggedly reported on the removal of postal boxes in Missoula, where she is based. Missoula has been a long-time Democratic Party stronghold.

Montana has a competitive U.S. Senate election in 2020, with Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock challenging first-term Republican Sen. Steve Daines.

As Georgiou chased the story, she learned there were also plans to remove boxes in the battleground of Billings. And more planned for the blue town of Bozeman. And other towns.

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2020 Election

Pepsi joins the chorus of people dunking on Tucker Carlson over Kamala Harris

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The Pepsi soda company mocked Fox News personality Tucker Carlson on Friday evening.

On Tuesday, Carlson flipped out after a guest attempted to teach him how to pronounce the name of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), who is running for vice president on Joe Biden's ticket.

Video of the exchange was posted on Twitter by Nikki McCann Ramirez, a researcher at the watchdog group Media Matters for America.

Tucker Carlson loses it when a guest corrects his pronunciation of Kamala Harris's name pic.twitter.com/1fHIrPGuwN

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