With the start of a Texas Capitol hearing on a transgender bathroom bill pushed into the late-night hours Wednesday, attention shifted toward a bill that seeks to protect the religious practice of those participating in the child-welfare system.
Senate Bill 892 by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, seeks to protect faith-based child-placement agencies and foster families from being required to take actions that violate their beliefs — allowing, for example, same-sex couples to be declined as foster parents, or foster children to be denied access to contraceptives or abortion.
Opponents — many who were also waiting to testify on the transgender bathroom legislation — called the child-placement bill a state-issued license to discriminate under the guise of protecting religious belief.
But the goal, Perry said, was to protect religious rights and ensure that the state’s faith-based child-welfare agencies can continue providing much-needed services for children, many of whom were abused or neglected. One-fourth of the state’s child-placement organizations are faith-based operations, he said.
“This bill is not a license to discriminate. Rather, it is a license to participate,” Perry said during a hearing on SB 892 before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
Without SB 892, faith-based groups could be forced to curtail services for fear of costly lawsuits over decisions that adhere to their religious beliefs, Perry said.
Opponents disagreed, testifying that SB 892 would place religious practice over the best interests of the child.
“We recognize the importance of faith in public life. We simply want to ensure the system the state puts in place does not allow discrimination, that the system provides equal protection for everyone,” said Kathy Miller with the Texas Freedom Network.
“I’m concerned about the transgender child whose foster family will not allow transitioning and won’t refer (the child) to anyone who will, or the young teen girl in foster care who has been sexually assaulted and needs emergency contraception but the foster family does not believe in that,” Miller said.
The committee did not vote on SB 892 Wednesday. Identical legislation, House Bill 3859, was approved last week by the House State Affairs Committee.
Meantime, long debates over ride-hailing and school finance bills on the House floor pushed a hearing on House Bill 2899 into the late night Wednesday, with dozens of people registered to testify on legislation that would block cities and school districts from enacting or enforcing transgender-friendly restroom policies.
The bill by state Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, also would nullify local anti-discrimination protections that regulate access to multiple-occupancy bathrooms, showers and changing rooms.
Also Wednesday, the head of the Texas House Democratic Caucus asked the NFL and NBA commissioners to add their voices to those opposed to the House transgender bathroom bill, calling it “ill-advised, intolerant legislation.”
Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, noted that both professional sports leagues had “taken a strong stance over the last several years in opposing similar discriminatory measures.”
“In keeping with this stance, it seems natural you would also strongly oppose HB 2899,” Turners said in similar letters to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
The sports leagues have played a large role in the debate over transgender bathroom bills because of threats to withhold lucrative events, including the Super Bowl and NBA All Star Game, in states that have adopted such legislation.