Business Groups and LGBTQ Advocates Look to Shut Down Senate Bill 17 As It Moves to Texas House

click to enlarge Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has named Senate Bill 17 one his top legislative priorities. - GAGE SKIDMORE
Gage Skidmore
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has named Senate Bill 17 one his top legislative priorities.
With the Texas Senate's approval Tuesday of a bill that civil rights groups call "a license to discriminate" against LGBTQ people, opponents are now aiming to stop the measure in the state's House of Representatives.

Senate Bill 17 would allow licensed professionals such as doctors, therapists and lawyers to deny services based on their religious beliefs. It requires one more Senate vote before moving to the House.

"We're confident the House will work with us to ensure no discriminatory legislation will pass this session," said Angela Hale, executive director of Texas Welcomes All, a group of employers, chambers of commerce and visitors' bureaus opposed to bill. "Our coalition believes this legislation is bad for business, bad for the brand and bad for our state."

In an open letter to lawmakers, business powerhouses including Apple, Google and Rackspace warned that permitting discrimination against LGBTQ communities would harm the state's economy. The San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the San Antonio LGBT Chamber of Commerce and Visit San Antonio also backed the letter.

Nonetheless, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, has tagged the measure as one of his top 30 legislative priorities and has continued to defend it in the face of criticism from business interests.

However, the bill is likely to face longer odds in the house, experts say.

House Speaker Dennis Bonnen signaled at the beginning if this session that he was focused on school finance and property tax reform, adding that he would be "very discouraged" by legislation that distracts from those priorities.

During the last legislative session, a coalition of business groups and civil rights advocates successfully routed the divisive Bathroom Bill championed by Patrick, said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University. That proposal would have would have restricted transgender Texans’ access to public restroom facilities.

"We'll see how energized the business community becomes this time," he said. "This bill is less direct and obvious than the bathroom bill, but there's still cause for people to be concerned about what it means for the state."

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