This Week in the Legislature: May 2-May 8, 2015

Legislative Update #16 | View Archive

This Week in the Legislature
May 2 – May 8, 2015
Days 110-116; 24 days to go

By this time in a legislative session, action is largely focused on the floors of both chambers while committees meet quickly in formal meetings to vote on pending bills that have already had hearings, or conduct short public hearings on the other chamber’s bills. If the legislative session was compared to a charity "coin vortex funnel," then the month of May is represented by the bottle neck where the speed of the coin is greatest and deadlines are rapidly approaching.

Top Story: Tough session for minority denominations and religions

Press Release: SB 2065 and HB 3567 Threaten First Amendment Rights for Some Denominations

Texas Impact: SB 2065 and HB 3567 Threaten First Amendment Rights for Some Denominations

AUSTIN—Texas Impact, Texas’ oldest and largest statewide interfaith advocacy network, remains opposed to SB 2065 and HB 3567 because the bills contain provisions that could increase lawsuits within churches and denominations.

Legal experts from Texas Impact’s member denominations say the bills limit religious freedom by allowing clergy and other employees to sue their employer denomination if their beliefs conflict concerning marriage.

Proponents of SB 2065 and HB 3567 describe the bills as “pastor protection” and say they are necessary to shield members of the clergy from future lawsuits should the U.S. Supreme Court rule that same-sex marriage prohibitions are unconstitutional.

However, as written, the bills would create a cause of action for clergy and other church employees to sue their employers if they are disciplined for disobeying denominational policies regarding marriage.

Attorneys for several mainline Protestant denominations provided the authors of both bills with amendment language to address their concerns, but neither author accepted the language. The amendment language would clarify that the bills are not intended to create a cause of action for lawsuits within denominations.

“No church wants lawsuits—from outside the church or from within. It would be simple to amend these bills to address the concerns of all denominations so that everyone could support them. Instead, lawmakers seem to favor certain church structures over others,” Texas Impact Executive Director Bee Moorhead said.

Dozens of pastors testified for the bill in public hearings in the House and Senate. Supporters were overwhelmingly Baptist, with different accountability structures than “connectional” denominations such as the United Methodist, Episcopal, Presbyterian and Lutheran churches.

“As currently written, both SB 2065 and HB 3567 intrude on denominational management and discipline of clergy, discipline that is fundamental to various denominational structures and freely entered into by pastors in those denominations,” Moorhead said. “We will continue to urge the legislature to adopt language we are offering to correct the bills and prevent the intrusion of the state into religious choice.”


This Week in the Legislature: April 25–May 1, 2015

Legislative Update #15 | View Archive

This Week in the Legislature
April 25 – May 1, 2015
Days 103-109; 31 days to go

As deadlines approach, attention in the last 30 days turns to floor action, as professional advocates are working hard to get scheduled or block bills in House Calendars, or to get 19 votes to suspend the rules or get 13 Senators to block consideration of a bill in the Senate. This week saw committee hearings on payday lending reform, death penalty abolition, and a good health bill; the House passed the Innocence Commission bill; and the politics of the “pastor protection” bill has made addressing the employment law concerns of hierarchical denominations difficult.

Top Story: Government interference with religious employment law

Action Alert: Good Health and Bad Medicine

Medicaid expansion is currently stalled, but legislators are considering a number of bills that would keep Texans healthy. Call your legislator and urge support!

On the down side, legislators are considering a host of bills that would encourage inappropriate government involvement in religion. Proponents say the legislation is needed to protect religious freedom...but these bills would create religious winners and losers. Tell lawmakers "religious freedom" means everyone.

Find legislator phone numbers, bill information and more below:

Take Action Now! Support Good Bills

With 35 days left in the legislative session, nerves are starting to fray. It's easy to focus on the negative, but focusing on the positive will benefit Texas more. Here are three steps legislators could take this week for the common good:

  1. Support Community Attendants
  2. Strengthen Payday Lending Regulation
  3. Increase Compassion in Texas' Criminal Justice System

Find legislator phone numbers, bill information and more at

This Week in the Legislature: April 18-April 24, 2015

Legislative Update #14 | View Archive

This Week in the Legislature
April 18 – April 24, 2015

Days 96-102; 38 days to go

Tensions rise between the House and Senate, between the Legislature and the Governor, and within both chambers’ memberships.  

Top Story: Mounting Tensions Undermine Legislative Process

Many observers feel strongly that interpersonal and ideological conflict is slowing significantly the progress of major and minor legislation, including bills addressing border security, open carry, private school vouchers, tax cuts and pre-K. Nevertheless, budget bills have passed both chambers, clearing the way for House and Senate conferees to put a final budget together.


It’s not unusual for tensions to escalate between the House and Senate during late April, and this session is no different. Some will remember that two weeks ago, State Representative Dennis Bonnen took on Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick over the chambers’ competing tax cut plans.

One clear sign of tension is the slow pace with which chambers are referring each other’s bills to committee. Both chambers are choosing to pass their own bills over the other chamber’s version. For instance, the House passed HB 910, its open carry bill, even though the Senate companion (SB 17) has been received in the House, guaranteeing that one chamber will have to hear the contentious and time-consuming bill all over again if it wants the bill to become law.

On Monday, Rep. Bonnen accused the Lt. Gov. of “playing games” on border security and bringing bad Washington-style politics “to Austin instead of solving problems.” The Senate passed SB 3, the Senate’s companion legislation to HB 11, authored by Rep. Bonnen, which passed the House more than six weeks ago. The rest of the House’s border security package, HB 10 and HB 12, is also immobile in the Senate.

n Tuesday, the Senate voted 18-12 to suspend the rules and bring up SB 4, the Lt. Gov.’s school voucher bill. The bill passed 17-13. Over the weekend, a motorist ran a traffic signal and injured Senator Kel Seliger, who was on a motorcycle. His injuries were not life threatening, but required surgery at Brackenridge in Austin. Many speculate that Senator Seliger, a senator from a rural district without private schools that would benefit from vouchers and only public schools that would have funds diverted to private schools, was the 13th vote blocking SB 4 from coming to the floor.

On Wednesday, that tension boiled over into the public as R.G. Ratcliffe of Texas Monthly reported. Lt. Gov. Patrick declared he was tired of Governor Abbott and Speaker Straus “picking on me.”

On Thursday, the so-called tea party members of the House offered amendments to the Department of State Health Services’ (DSHS) Sunset bill that would further restrict abortions. The debate was less than civil, and after the amendment was adopted and hours had been spent on the bill, Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer called a sustainable point of order, forcing the bill’s author to take the bill back to committee to cure the point of order and strip off the amendments.

With three weeks until the deadline for House bills to clear the House, many speculate as to the timing of these amendments. By complicating the DSHS Sunset legislation, tea party members used up valuable time, diminishing the chances of passage for many other bills.

In other political news, two of the Speaker’s top Chairs have already been “primaried.” The Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek reports on the primary challenges coming to Chairman Charlie Geren and Chairman Jim Keffer.

In HD 124, former Bexar county prosecutor Ina Minjarez defeated former City Councilmember Delicia Herrera by a vote of 1,331 – 1,090. Each House District contains roughly 170,000 people, 125,000 of which are usually citizens of voting age. In this race only 2,421 people voted, or 2.77% turnout.

Syndicate content