Turns out the "Save Chick-fil-A" bill wasn't dead after all. Monday afternoon, the Texas Senate went tit-for-tat with the Texas House's LGBTQ caucus, executing a maneuver to advance the upper chamber version of one of this legislative session's most controversial bills without a committee hearing.
Thursday night, Sen. Julie Johnson, a Democrat from Carrollton, took down the House Bill 3172, which would've shielded individuals and businesses across the state from any negative consequences stemming from their religious or moral beliefs, with a procedural move that kept the bill from being voted on before a key House deadline.
The Senate companion to HB 3172, Senate Bill 1978, hadn't moved all session, languishing in committee without so much as a hearing. It got new life Monday, however, after the Senate voted to allow it to be heard in committee without public notice.
Minutes after the vote, the State Affairs Committee met and passed the bill to the Senate floor, without so much as a public speaker for or against the bill. Dozens of speakers on both sides showed up at the Capitol to debate the House version of the bill, which gets its nickname from the controversy that ensued after the San Antonio City Council kicked Chick-fil-A out of the city's airport because of the company's long history of financially supporting anti-LGBTQ groups.
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Texas civil rights groups blasted the Texas Senate and its leader, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, for getting the bill moving again.
“It’s appalling to hold a ghost hearing and then take a snap vote that leaves virtually no chance for anyone to tell senators how such a sweeping discrimination bill would affect individuals and families across the state,” Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller said. “The lieutenant governor is so desperate to pass a bill that shields discrimination against LGBT Texans that he no longer even pretends to care what anybody else thinks about it."
Patrick has previously called San Antonio's decision "outrageous" and insisted that Texas, and its Legislature, fight for the company's "religious liberties."
For SB 1978 to make it to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's desk for signature, it will have to pass both the Senate and the House by next Tuesday. The Senate has already passed another religious refusal bill, SB 17, which would allow those who hold state occupational licenses, such as lawyers or social workers, to cite their religious beliefs when their professional behavior would otherwise threaten their license.