Texas representative Bill Zedler of Arlington has filed HB 1035, a bill that Equality Texas says includes the “bathroom bill” and doubles down on LGBTQ discrimination. This filing is a departure from the more moderate tone coming out of Austin this legislative session, one focused on “bread and butter” issues like public education and property taxes.
Zedler’s bill would legally protect discrimination in healthcare, social services, the workplace, access to housing, in business, and in government by creating special rights for those who hold two specific religious beliefs: opposition to marriage equality and rejection of transgender people. The bill contains some of the same divisive bathroom regulations that overshadowed much of the 2017 session.
“Rep. Zedler missed the message voters sent last fall, when they sent home the author of 2017’s notorious bathroom bill,” said Samantha Smoot, interim executive director of Equality Texas. “Voters have had it with the hatefulness. They want lawmakers to focus on the economy and public education, not take aim at LGBTQ Texans’ rights.”
It appeared at the beginning of the current session that the too-close-for-comfort November 2018 election had put a scare in leaders like lieutenant governor Dan Patrick, who came within single digits of losing his seat. Texas Republicans have been accustomed to heartier leads for over two decades. As the electoral pendulum appeared to be swinging back, the “Big Three” (governor Greg Abbott, speaker Dennis Bonnen, and Patrick) tried to take on a more moderate tone for 2019. This bill could indicate that all of that was just talk, and that LGBTQ Texans are still on the legislative menu.
The House will not be allowed to vote on potential legislation until sixty days into the session, due to constitutional constraints. Speaker Bonnen assigned new committee chairs in recent days, so it is still too early to tell whether or not HB 1035 will make its way to the governor or languish in committee and eventually die on the vine. However, groups like Equality Texas are not taking any chances.
Former speaker Joe Straus, who stepped down after the 2017 legislative session, was largely given credit for blocking the inflammatory bathroom legislation that dominated that session. Although a very public rift between Straus and Patrick dominated the 2017 headlines, the anti-LGBTQ legislation ultimately failed except for one bill that now allows adoption agencies to legally discriminate against potential parents based on religious beliefs and/or LGBTQ status.
A recent American Values Atlas survey showed that the majority of Texans oppose discrimination like HB 1035. The Texas business community also demonstrated strong opposition to similar legislation in 2017 during both the regular and special sessions.
The 2018 election did have some positive news for LGBTQ Texans. The LGBTQ legislative caucus in the House has grown to five members, and the historic representation of queer women will likely play a role in developing pro-LGBTQ legislation for consideration, even if the odds of it passing may be low. LGBTQ Texans are making slow but steady progress in the state.
Zedler may also want to think twice about pushing bills like HB 1035. The 2020 election is lining up to be bigger than 2018, with President Trump likely to be at the top of the ticket. He may want to keep in mind that the last state representative who wrote a bill like HB 1035 was sent home and replaced by a Democrat.
This article appears in the February 2019 edition of OutSmart magazine.