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The Texas Senate has revived "license to discriminate" legislation that was killed in the House of Representatives last week.
The measure would prevent the state government or cities and counties from taking punitive action against individuals, businesses, or organizations because of their religious or moral beliefs, or their support for faith-based groups. Also dubbed the "Save Chick-fil-A Bill," it's aimed at preventing situations like the one that occurred recently in San Antonio, where the City Council decided not to allow a Chick-fil-A in the city's airport because of the company's donations to anti-LGBTQ organizations.
Rep. Julie Johnson and the rest of the House's LGBTQ Caucus kept that chamber's version of the bill, House Bill 3172, from coming up for debate Thursday, the last day for representatives to take action on legislation that originated in the House. But there was still a chance to consider Senate-originated bills. Sen. Bryan Hughes had introduced his version, Senate Bill 1978, months ago, but no action on it had occurred until Monday, when it was added to a committee's agenda with no notice, the Austin American-Statesman reports.
The Senate State Affairs Committee, having waived the rule that requires a 24-hour notice of a public hearing on a bill, then held a hearing on SB 1978, and no witnesses were present to testify, likely because few people knew what was happening. Shortly afterward, the committee approved the bill on a party-line vote (Republicans for, Democrats against), and moved it to the full Senate, where a vote could happen as early as Wednesday, according to the American-Statesman. SB 1978, as introduced, focuses on actions against individuals, but Hughes said he would amend it to mirror the language of the House bill.
LGBTQ advocates condemned the committee's move. "It's appalling to hold a ghost hearing and then take a snap vote that leaves virtually no chance for anyone to tell senators how such a sweeping discrimination bill would affect individuals and families across the state," said a statement issued by Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network.
Denunciation also came from the Texas Democratic Party, which has dubbed the legislation "Bathroom Bill 2.0," a reference to conservative lawmakers' failed 2017 attempt to pass a bill restricting transgender people's public restroom use.
"The fact that Republicans were forced to sneak the Bathroom Bill 2.0 without a hearing tells you everything you need to know about it," said a statement from party spokeswoman Brittany Switzer. "Texans want an economy that works for all, not more bathroom nonsense. Texas cannot afford discrimination. It's time for Republicans to let it go. It's bad for business, bad for Texans, and just downright wrong. Every American deserves equal treatment under the law -- no matter who they are or who they love."
There is still a tight deadline for House consideration of the bill, the American-Statesman notes. In order to pass in this session, it would need committee approval by Saturday and full House approval by May 21.