By Rylee Seavers | Staff Writer
A Texas House of Representatives bill that would not allow political subdivisions to protect classes of people from discrimination was left pending in committee on April 19.
Texas House Bill 2899 would not allow local governments to adopt nondiscrimination policies, reduce or expand the classes of people protected from discrimination and void any policy relating to protecting groups of people from discrimination that was adopted by a political subdivision before the bill is passed. A political subdivision is defined as a local government of a city or municipality, according to the bill.
Currently, Texas state law prohibits discrimination based on race, color, disability, religion, sex, national origin or age. This means that nondiscrimination policies or protected classes adopted by local governments would be void, the two most notable being nondiscrimination laws affecting members of the LGBTQ community and veterans.
Austin, Dallas, El Paso, San Antonio and Fort Worth are among the cities in Texas that have nondiscrimination polices that do not allow people to discriminate based on gender identity or sexual orientation, according to Freedom For All Americans. San Antonio and Austin also have nondiscrimination policies for veterans.
Dr. Pat Flavin, Baylor professor of political science, said HB 2899 is an attempt to reserve for the state the power to decide what classes of people are protected from discrimination.
“A county government, a school district, a local city government like Waco, for example, only exists because the state of Texas allows them to,” Flavin said. “It’s a very different relationship than the relationship between the federal government and the states. The states do have constitutionally enshrined protections and authority.”
Carmen Saenz, director of InterWaco-LGBTQ, said that HB 2899 is a much worse bill than Senate Bill 6, relating to transgender bathroom rights, which it is replacing, because it is much broader and would affect much more than bathroom rights for transgender people. She also said that the bill would essentially legalize discrimination.
“What 2899 will allow is for any place that is a public space to discriminate against people who are LGBT, which is why, in my opinion, it’s worse than SB 6,” Saenz said.
Texas Rep. Larry Phillips, co-author of HB 2899, said the ramifications of protecting classes of people need to be considered.
“I think we need to have these issues reserved for the state so we will have uniformity of the laws related to these issues,” Phillips said.
If HB 2899 is passed, the Legislature could file legislation to add a group of people to the already protected classes, but the deadline to file bills passed on March 10. Flavin said that a special session could be called to amend the current protected classes, but it would be much more difficult to accomplish than if a bill were filed at the beginning of a legislative session.