LGBT protections targeted in Texas bills

Earlier this week I wrote about growing opposition to legislative proposals that would overturn city rules on things like plastic bags, tree preservation, and fracking: Lawmakers, following the lead of Gov. Greg Abbott, have put those local rules in their cross-hairs.

Now two more bills are garnering attention because they will thwart local non-discrimination practices based on sexual orientation, such as ones adopted in Austin. In one of the cases, the proposal has grown personal, with a gay Houston attorney publicly announcing his opposition to his father’s legislative proposal.

The bills promise to test Republican philosophies not only on local control, but also on equal rights as polls show Americans are increasingly in favor of marriage equality. We’ll be tracking them as the session marches forward.

Texas law bans discrimination based on race, color, disability, religion, sex, national origin and age, but some cities have added further protections.

State Rep. Rick Miller, R-Sugarland, has filed HB 1556, which bars a governmental entity from adopting an ordinance “that creates a protected classification or prohibits discrimination on a basis not contained in the laws of this state.”

Austin has some of those ordinances. Austin’s housing, public accommodations and employment ordinances protect an individual from discrimination based sexual orientation and gender identity, among other factors.

Miller told the Texas Observer:

“Competing and inconsistent local ordinances interfere with economic liberty and discourage business expansion. By promoting instead of restricting business growth, this bill is about job creation and an improved state economy, both of which have a direct, positive impact on Texas citizens.

“Because every private business is different, nothing in the bill prevents local businesses from voluntarily adopting their own discrimination policy not currently included in state law,” he added.

Miller’s son, Houston attorney Beau Miller, responded on Twitter:

“While I love my dad very much, I am extremely disappointed by his actions and will do everything I can to prevent that bill, or any such legislation, from becoming law. I have been in fairly intense talks with my dad and his office about this issue. Although I am hopeful that I can persuade him to agree to not pursue this bill’s advancement, that outcome is far from certain.”

State Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, has filed a similar bill, which he told the Dallas Morning News addresses a “patchwork of ordinances that go further than the state law.”

Mayor Steve Adler tells me that with business booming in Texas, “there is not a problem here that needs fixing.”

“We support local control, local liberty,” he said. “In Austin we believe in equal access and opportunity for the people that live here.”

Austin has flourished economically partly because of its local policies, Adler argued: “Austin attracts a lot of creativity because it is unusually inclusive and open and diverse.”

 

Author: Asher Price

Asher Price has covered energy and the environment for the American-Statesman since 2006. Twice the Society of Environmental Journalists has named him a finalist for its beat reporter of the year award. He spent part of the spring of 2011 as an environmental science journalism fellow at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., and during the 2011-12 academic year was stationed at Columbia’s business and journalism schools as a Knight-Bagehot fellow. He is the co-author of the book The Great Texas Wind Rush: How George Bush, Ann Richards and a Bunch of Tinkerers Helped the Oil and Gas State Win the Race to Wind Power. (UT Press.) His new book, Year of the Dunk, comes out in May 2015. He lives in the South Congress neighborhood with his wife and dog.

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