Hughes Bills Carry Conservative Hopes

untitledIn a legislative session marked with few signs of acrimony or progress, Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, carries aloft the tattered social conservative flag.

Gov. Gregg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Speaker Dennis Bonnen established legislative goals of reduced property taxes and a better way to finance schools.

Contentious issues like which bathroom at a Stars hockey playoff game should a transvestite use were not supposed to come up this spring. Apparently, with the support of Lt. Gov. Patrick, Hughes is rocking the boat with two bills he sponsors.

One adds criminal penalties for voter fraud. The second has been called by opponents the protect ChickFilA bill. Hughes’ Senate Bill 9 is an attempt to strengthen Texas election laws, a popular Republican theme.

“Under the provisions of the bill, the statute of limitations for any felony offense under the Election Code would be five years, certain misdemeanors would be punishable as a state jail felony, and the offense of retaliation against voter would be increased from a third degree to a second degree felony when the actor is an election watcher,” the bill states.

Senate Bill 1978 addresses an even more contentious issue. Billed as a religious liberty bill, critics complain it is actually a license to discriminate against the LGBTQ community. SB 9 passed the Senate and currently resides in a House committee.

SB 1978 sprang to life when the House version died unexpectedly on a procedural issue. SB 1978 cleared the Senate committee Monday and expects floor approval later this week. House sponsor Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, had severely trimmed his version of the bill.

That watered-down version — which Hughes has indicated he prefers — would prevent government entities from taking “adverse action” against individuals or organizations based on their “membership in, affiliation with, or contribution, donation, or other support provided to a religious organization” — protections that, in large part, already exist in law.

It also would have empowered the Texas attorney general to sue on behalf of individuals or organizations claiming religious discrimination. “[Rep. Krause] worked very, very hard, worked with stakeholders all across the spectrum, to come up with language that was not offensive, that would accomplish the intended ends without harming, without causing problems,” Hughes told reporters as he laid the bill out at a sparsely attended committee hearing Monday.

Hughes intends to “make the bill look more like the agreed-to language that Rep. Krause was able to work out over in the House.” The #SaveChickFilA bill label apparently refers to a provision that would lay the groundwork for Attorney General Ken Paxton to sue San Antonio, whose City Council voted earlier this year to keep Chick-fil-A from opening a restaurant in the city’s airport after one council member, Robert Treviño, said he could not support a company with “a legacy of anti-LGBTQ behavior.”

I have to wonder why it is bad to discriminate against LGBTQ folks, but okay to penalize people of faith who want the Bible to guide their lives. I realize this skates close to the Jim Crow line when discrimination against people of color was openly practiced.

But I think there is a difference. Liberals may break out in hives at the thought of people who deliberately (a word that needs to be added to SB 9) vote illegally or being able to buy a chicken sandwich at the San Antonio airport, but they both look like good ideas to me.

At the pace major legislation is proceeding in Austin – the idea to swap increased sales taxes for lower property taxes did a belly flop, and no one can seemingly get their minds around school finance without former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff (the last man to do it) to hold their hands – we might as well get something accomplished this session. The two bills by Bryan Hughes look likely.

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