The Texas legislature’s regular session ended just weeks ago, but lawmakers are already back in Austin for a special session. Governor Greg Abbott (R) was forced to call the special session after the state legislature failed to adopt must-pass legislation during the regular session: in a dramatic stand-off, the Senate had refused to pass key bills as retaliation for the House refusing to pass legislation that would discriminate against transgender people.
Not surprising, the governor’s agenda includes not just the must-pass bills, but also private school vouchers and bills that discriminate against transgender Texans. The legislature is holding hearings on both issues this morning.
Private School Vouchers
At 10 a.m. CT, a Senate committee will hold a hearing on SB 2, a bill that would create a tuition tax credit—a form of a private school voucher.
Lt. Governor Dan Patrick (R) and Senate leadership have made passing a voucher program a priority, but members of the House, who voted to reject vouchers multiple times during the regular session, continue to oppose them. The Chair of the House Public Education Committee, Rep. Dan Huberty, (R-Humble) explained: “We voted six times during the regular session. . . . We’ve talked about this on numerous occasions. I don’t know what else we can do.”
AU wrote to oppose the voucher bill because, among other things, vouchers primarily fund religious schools. That, of course, violates one of the core principles of religious freedom: no one should be forced to pay for someone else’s religious education. Public dollars should fund public schools, which serve all students and provide them with civil rights protections that private schools don’t have to.
Texans are also fighting back against vouchers. On the day before the special session began, hundreds of Texas public school teachers, parents and students rallied at the state capitol to demand that public schools should get priority when it comes to public funds. If you live in Texas, you can take a stand too — urge your state legislators to oppose private school vouchers during the special session.
Anti-Trans Discrimination Bills
Another Senate committee will debate SB 3 and SB 91 at 9 am CT. These bills would discriminate against transgender people by prohibiting them from using public bathrooms that align with their gender identity.
Speaker of the House Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) has remained resolute in his opposition. He understands the consequences that come from discrimination, explaining that he doesn’t want to have “the suicide of a single Texan on my hands.” Public opposition to these bills is widespread: the Texas Association of Business is spending $1 million to fight the bills, major corporations have voiced serious concern, and faith leaders, houses of worship, and a religious denomination oppose.
Many who support the legislation are pushing false, harmful, and even dangerous rhetoric about transgender people. We wrote to the committee to dispel the myth that these bills are necessary or even support religious freedom. Religious freedom is a fundamental American value. It guarantees us all the right to believe, or not, as we see fit. It also ensures people can practice their faith, so long as they do not harm or discriminate against others. Using the restroom is a basic human need we all share and denying transgender people access to the bathroom harms and discriminates against them.
AU will closely monitor developments in Texas and continue to oppose private school voucher schemes and any attempt to discriminate in the name of religion.