What is ‘good moral character?’ Texas lawmakers ask


Is the definition of “good moral character” universal or does it differ from person to person?

That question – rounded out with the sort of politics about American-ness that have lately absorbed the country – was at the heart of a dispute that broke out Monday during a legislative hearing about an obscure state agency.

The Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, which regularly reviews state agency operations, was considering recommendations from its staff on the Executive Council of Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy.

Among the recommendations: That the agency, which administers and oversees the regulation of physical and occupational therapy, remove “good moral character” as a criterion for foreign-trained license applicants.

“Besides creating a disparity between applicants trained in the United States versus abroad, this requirement is subjective, not clearly related to practice, and difficult to evaluate and enforce,” the Sunset staff observed. “Removing this requirement of good moral character would be in line with current practice of reviewing criminal history and would better ensure that qualifications for licensure relate to the practice of physical or occupational therapy and that entry into practice is not restricted arbitrarily.”

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But state Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, objected.

The “good moral character” language “has worked for a long time,” he said, before asking whether the sunset staff’s move was in deference “to political correctness.”

“I object to taking the words out,” Flynn said. “In my good moral character, I can’t say we’ll remove that.”

In response, Sunset staff member Erick Fajardo told commission members that the removal of the “good moral character” language is a “clean up,” partly meant to keep the state agency from being sued. He said, by way of example, that an executive director might rule out divorcees for licenses because he or she doesn’t think divorcees have good moral character.

State Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano, vice chairman of the commission, said the language should be removed because it “creates ambiguity around the law and the regulations.”

“Unfortunately, with the term ‘good moral character’ – you ask the members of this commission to write out a definition and you’d get 12 different answers,” he said.

“I agree with you that our nation is in need for good moral character,” he said to Flynn, “but our job is to pass laws that are clear, easy to understand” and enforceable.

“If we pass bad laws, there are more lawsuits,” he said.

With that, the commission voted 9-3 to recommend the Legislature modify the law to remove the “good moral character” language.


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