SB 92, filed by Texas tea party State Senator Bob Hall, sounds innocuous when you first read the title, doesn’t it? Interstate Commerce Improvement Act – is that going to promote commerce within the state of Texas? Definitely sounds like something the legislature should focus on. Though that isn’t at all what Senator Hall had in mind, as evidenced by language prohibiting individual municipalities, cities, or counties from adopting any new laws (or enforcing any standing laws) that create “a protected classification or prohibits discrimination on a basis not contained in the laws of this state."
This is called “local control preemption” and can mean a lot of different things in a lot of different cities. For example, in Austin (as Equality Texas points out), it is illegal for property owners to refuse to rent to students. Austin is a rapidly growing city as well as a huge college town and finding housing can be a challenge for anyone living there. In recent years, it has become increasingly difficult for students to find landlords willing to rent to them. The problem grew so bad that the city was forced to intercede and protect students as a class of citizens from housing discrimination practices.
Makes sense, right? This isn’t a widespread problem in other parts of the state, so this needn’t be a state law. But in Austin, it’s a huge deal.
The irony is that the Texas lege has long held that local control and more stringent enforcements should always take precedence over federal “interference.” Privacy laws are a great example. We have had them in Texas since the 1970s, far before federal HIPPA laws went into effect. The privacy laws in Texas are also tougher than the federal laws. So clinical practioners in Texas follow Texas law, which trumps federal. So why would Senator Hall want to take away the rights of local authorities to better protect its local citizens?
Senator Hall was ranked the 2nd worst senator on LGBT issues by Equality Texas during his Freshman year (with Donna Campbell taking the #1 spot) and is known for his right wing stance on the state of democracy in our State. As the Texas Observer reported, Senator Hall stated:
“I think we’re sliding into Gomorrah… If we do not change what we’re doing
by changing the leaders when we go to the ballot box, our children
and grandchildren may be having to change their leaders with the ammo box.”
And this is where his so-titled Interstate Commerce Protection Act starts to make sense. Texas does not have any state laws that protect LGBT individuals from discrimination. However, many Texas cities (including Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Plano, and San Antonio) do. Because Texas state law doesn't include sexual orientation or gender identity, cities and counties would be be prohibited from enforcing LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances, if Senator Hall’s bill passes with a two-thirds vote.
These laws protect approximately 9 million Texas residents, approximately 1/3rd of our state’s population. These cities have decided to take on the enforcement of such measures at their own expense to better serve the individuals that live there. Senator Hall thinks that they shouldn’t be allowed to make such determinations in their local governance. Could you imagine his reply if the federal government decided to strip away the increased protections that Texas privacy laws offer those of us who live and work here and instead demand we comply with the less-stringent HIPAA regulations?
But putting aside the issues of the LGBT community for a moment, what might the possible economic ramifications could come of such a law? North Carolina has seen huge financial losses after passing anti-LGBT legislation, numbers of a magnitude that concerned the Texas Association of Business (TAB) came out in public opposition to such measures. Citing the $395 million-dollar loss suffered by North Carolina after the passage of House Bill 2, The TAB estimates even larger losses in Texas. Upwards of $8.5 billion dollars into the Texas economy and 185,000 jobs could be at stake over such a measure.
Billion. With a “b.” For a bill that prevents local legislatures from protecting their own citizens.
This is a bill that makes no sense. No fiscal sense, no structural sense, and definitely no moral sense. We recently saw a huge public outcry and immediate reversal of a federal move to put the Office of Congressional Ethics under the control of the House Ethics Committee, which would allow federal lawmakers complete control over their own discipline. So you know what to do now, don’t you?