We always look forward to the biennial Texas legislative session with a mix of gut-gnawing fear and giddy anticipation. This year was no exception and so far, based on the bills filed by the 84th Texas Legislature, the stars of the best political reality TV show this side of D.C. have not failed us..
No, despite some surprisingly smart proposed legislation filed over the course of the legislative filing period -- from November 10 through March 13 -- state lawmakers also cooked up some bills that have given us armchair Lege watchers plenty to cackle over (we laugh because it's so much easier on the mascara than crying). There was a last flurry of activity before the filing deadline Friday and lawmakers came up with some incredibly, shall we say, entertaining bills as a result. We've rounded up five that really caught our attention:
5. The one where business owners will be able to refuse service on religious grounds. HB 2553 filed by state Rep. Molly White, a Republican from Benton, is a real winner. This bill would change the state business and commerce code so that private business owners would have the right not to provide goods or services if doing so would be "in violation of that business owner's sincerely held religious or personal beliefs." The bill would also clear business owners of any liability for refusing goods and services as long as they were refusing on those same "sincere" religious grounds.
There's a lot wrong with this one. First, it comes from White, a regular model of religious tolerance and tact. For those who've already blocked it out, White is the freshman representative who dealt with Texas Muslim Capitol Day by leaving an Israeli flag prominently displayed in her office and informing her constituents via social media that she had instructed her staff to require any Muslim visitors "to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws" if they walked into her office. And now she's pitching a "religious tolerance" law that would basically allow businesses to discriminate against whomever they feel like as long as they can "sincerely" prove that they were doing so because their particular religious teachings demanded it. With language that vague just imagine the possibilities for legal discrimination! They're practically limitless!
4. The one that pays a $2,000 bounty to anyone who turns in a transgendered student using the "wrong" bathroom. HB 2801 filed by state Rep. Gilbert Peña, a Republican from Pasadena. There's been a lot of focus lately on who gets to use public bathrooms but Peña has really upped the ante by making it a question of who gets to use all public school bathrooms, locker rooms and bathing facilities. In Peña's proposed bill "only persons of the same biological sex may be present at the same time in any bathroom, locker room, or shower facility in a building owned by the district."
Even more fun, according to this bill, if a student used the wrong bathroom and a school district employee knew about it the school district would be liable for up to $2,000 if another student encounters a student of the "wrong" biological sex in any of the aforementioned school facilities.
3. The one that makes it illegal to film police officers unless they're at least 25 feet away. HB 2918, filed by state Rep. Jason Villalba, a Dallas Republican, would turn getting "too close" to a police officer with a camera into a misdemeanor for the public. The media would still be okay as long as we are licensed with the Federal Communications Commission and everything, but regular people would have to stay back. And things would be even more strict for those into the open carry movement since anyone armed -- openly or otherwise -- would have to stay at least 100 feet back to take a photo. That one stipulation might actually be smart since we can just imagine how well things are going to turn out if an armed person decides to film at the same time. Between shifting the gun and pulling out the smartphone there's a lot of room for misinterpretation of action and intention, and it's the kind of setup where someone ends up shot.
Anyway, some people are interpreting this bill as an attempt to make it illegal to film the police at all. Villalba disagrees. He posted this tweet on the matter yesterday:
HB 2918 is meant to protect officers, NOT restrict the ability to keep them accountable. It DOES NOT prohibit filming. @TMPALegislative
— Jason Villalba (@JasonVillalba) March 12, 2015
2. The one that will let Texas override and ignore the federal government. HB 1751 is the brain child of state Rep. David Simpson, a Republican from Longview, and it's a real winner. Specifically, this bill would give the state of Texas the right to ignore the federal government. You may be wondering how exactly that would work, especially since the Civil War was a while ago and the end of that bloody time seemed to have drawn about pretty conclusively that federal trumps state just the way that paper covers rock.
However, in Simpson's bill, the Texas Lege, with a simple two-thirds majority vote, could override any federal law that was deemed to go against the Texas Constitution. Yep, the Lege would suddenly have the power -- without anything that even smelled like judicial review -- to look at a federal law and vote it right out of existence, as far as Texas is concerned. While those on the right side of things may be getting giddy at the mere thought of this, keep in mind that politics is a changeable beast, even in Texas, and the right to cancel out federal law like this is a hell of a lot of power for any majority to have.
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1. The one that will strike down local LGBT protections. HB 1556, filed by state Rep. Rick Miller, a Republican from Sugar Land, has the distinction of being both narrow-minded and a bill that sparked an outraged social media response from Miller's own son.
Miller's bill maintains that the local anti-discrimination ordinances that Texas cities have been passing recently (including HERO) are in damaging intrastate commerce. Miller wants to fix that by changing the law so that "a county, municipality, or other political subdivision may not adopt or enforce a local law that creates a protected classification or prohibits discrimination on a basis not contained in the laws of this state." However, Miller's son, Beau Miller, a local openly gay LGBT activist, took some offense to the bill and posted about it on Facebook. Hundreds of bills have been filed since the start of filing season back in November, and quite a few have been focused on the local anti-discrimination laws, but for the sheer horror of the fact that Rep. Miller has filed and is pursuing the passage of a bill being openly opposed by his own son, this bill takes the cake as the craziest bill filed this session.