Texas State Capitol building by Daniel Mayer via Wikimedia_Commons

Texas to Consider Anti-LGBT Legislation Based on HB2 Deal

by Chris Johnson, Washington Blade

In a sign the new law in North Carolina that replaced House Bill 2 may be exported to other states, the Texas legislature is set on Wednesday to consider anti-LGBT legislation that bears a striking resemblance to the North Carolina deal.

The bill, House Bill 2899, was introduced Friday by Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) as a compromise proposal for lawmakers seeking to enact anti-LGBT legislation in Texas as the biennial legislative session in Texas winds down. The legislation is set for a hearing Wednesday in the House State Affairs Committee.

The measure would prohibit municipalities from enacting ordinances that would "protect a class of persons from discrimination" or reduce or expand the classes of persons protected from discrimination under state law. In effect, the proposal would bar cities from enacting ordinances barring anti-LGBT discrimination because Texas state law affords no protection based on sexual orientation or transgender status.

The proposal has explicit language stating city ordinances would become null and void if they enacted prior to the passage of the law. That would eliminate non-discrimination ordinances already in place in Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Piano and San Antonio, according to the Human Rights Campaign's 2016 Municipal Index.

HB 2899 would take effect immediately if it receives a vote of two-thirds of all the members elected to each house as provided under the Texas Constitution. But if the legislature approves it by a simple majority, it would take effect on Sept. 1, 2017.

The law is proposed as alternative to anti-LGBT legislation already approved in the Senate, Senate Bill 6, which seems to have stalled out after House Speaker Joe Strauss said he opposed the bill and had no intention of bringing it up. That proposal would bar cities from enacting measures to bar discrimination against transgender people in restrooms and prohibit transgender people from using the restroom consistent with their gender identity in public spaces, such as schools and government buildings.

Matt McTighe, executive director for Freedom for All Americans, said in a statement lawmakers reject the measure because it would have the same discriminatory impact as SB6.

"No one should be fooled by HB2899 - this is dangerous legislation that is just as discriminatory and economically perilous as SB6," McTighe said. "Legal protections from discrimination are put in place for a reason, and rolling those protections back should never be on the table. Like SB6, this legislation is a solution in search of a problem that just doesn't exist. There are no winners under HB2899 - it will create dangerous situations for transgender people, and like SB6 it will tarnish Texas' reputation and economy."

Also condemning the Texas proposal on the basis of it being worse than SB6 was Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO of the LGBT media organization GLAAD.

"The newly proposed HB 2899 is even worse than SB6 because it invalidates all existing local non-discrimination ordinances that protect LGBTQ Texans and gives anti-LGBTQ state lawmakers full control over future LGBTQ local non-discrimination laws," Ellis said. "HB 2899 is another harmful 'solution' in search of a problem and will accomplish one thing: Further putting the lives of all LGBTQ Texans in jeopardy."

The measure bears a striking resemblance to HB142, the replacement law that Gov. Roy Cooper signed as part of a deal with Republican legislative leaders to alleviate economic boycott in his state as a result of HB2. The replacement law, which critics say still enables discrimination, convinced major sports leagues like the NCAA to return to the state, although numerous states and municipalities have continued their bans on sponsored travel to North Carolina in protest over the law.

HB2899 is similar to the HB2 deal because both of them bars cities from enacting pro-LGBT non-discrimination ordinances, although that language in the North Carolina law will sunset in 2020.

The North Carolina law, however, is different because it bars state agencies from the "regulation of access" to bathrooms, locker rooms and showers unless they have the legislature's permission, explicitly naming the University of North Carolina and the North Carolina Community College System as state agencies. The Texas proposal has no similar language, nor does it name any school.

It remains to be seen whether Texas will move forward with HB2899, or whether lawmakers other states will seek to pass copycats of the HB2 replacement deal because they've seen such measures won't rise to the level of economic boycott -- at least from major sports organizations.

Ian Palmquist, director of programs for the Equality Federation, said after the NCAA agreed to restore games to North Carolina as result of the HB2 deal other states won't pass copycats laws because they face boycotts from other entities.

"While some organizations like the NCAA are backing down, many are standing firm," Palmquist said. "Legislators in other states need to know that voters and businesses will rally against any new bills that diminish protections for LGBTQ Americans."

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association.This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National Gay Media Association.
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