UPDATED: Bill by Sen. Don Huffines Would Undo Local LGBT Protections

Sen. Don Huffines
Sen. Don Huffines

Sen. Don Huffines, a Republican from Dallas, has filed a bill that would prohibit cities from enforcing LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances.

Huffines’ Senate Bill 343, introduced Friday, is a sweeping proposal that would bar local governments from implementing ordinances that are more stringent than state law on the same subject, unless otherwise authorized by statute.

Since Texas law doesn’t prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, cities couldn’t do so, either.

SB 343 would amend the Local Government Code as follows:

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Huffines didn’t immediately respond to a message left with his office.

Although in line with some of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent statements, Huffines’ proposal seems extraordinarily broad and would block cities from implementing an array of local laws.

Four House Republicans from Plano reportedly plan a more narrow bill targeting local nondiscrimination ordinances, but it hasn’t been introduced yet. In addition, proposed constitutional amendments creating broad religious exemptions to nondiscrimination ordinances have been introduced in both chambers.

Huffines, a tea partier, defeated state Sen. John Carona in last year’s Republican primary. Carona was among the first Republican Texas legislators in history to publicly express support for gay rights.

Shortly after being elected, Huffines slammed the Boy Scouts’ decision to lift its ban on gay youth.

“I think it was a big mistake what the BSA did,” Huffines said. “They can’t be trusted not to open the door for more infiltration from the gay agenda. Eventually we’ll have gay Scouts and gay Scoutmasters and gay troops. They’ll keep coming until their mission is fulfilled.”

If passed, Huffines’ bill would undo local LGBT protections covering 7.5 million Texans. Cities with LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances include Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Houston, Plano and San Antonio.

Daniel Williams, legislative specialist for Equality Texas, said since 1909, Texas has granted cities with over 5,000 people broad discretion to make local decisions under the home-rule provision in the state Constitution.

“This bill would be a significant change to over a century of Texas tradition,” Williams said. “In addition to nondiscrimination ordinances, any other local ordinance that deals with a subject covered by state law could be affected, including: plastic bag use, tree ordinances, fracking bans, land-use restrictions, sight line and building height restrictions. The 31 percent of Texans who live in cities with some level of protections based, not only on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression, but on as race, sex, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, disability, religion, pregnancy, genetic information and student status deserve the ability to keep their locally adopted ordinances.”

Update: Huffines spokesman Matt Langston denied the bill is designed to undo city ordinances prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination.

“The bill aims to curtail local laws that hinder free enterprise and businesses or hamper liberty, counter to the free market, limited government policies enacted by the state,” Langston wrote in an email late Tuesday.

Asked if he could be more specific about the impetus for the bill, Langston wrote: “The focus of the bill is on free enterprise. Senator Huffines wants to put an end to ordinances, rules, and regulations that hinder the free market and directly undermine state policies designed to encourage the free market. Political subdivisions must not be allowed to undermine the free market, limited-government policies enacted by the duly elected officials of the state.”

Asked whether Huffines would consider adding language to the bill exempting LGBT nondiscrimination ordinances, Langston wrote: “We are still meeting with stakeholders to make sure this bill accomplishes its free market goals.”

Meanwhile, Equality Texas issued an action alert urging people to contact their lawmakers and ask them to oppose Huffines’ bill.

“Local elected officials are in the best position to know the best solutions to local problems: from water to flooding, from air quality to traffic control,” the group wrote.

Dallas Morning News editorial columnist Rudy Bush also panned Huffines’ proposal.

“So city councils that have voted to protect gay citizens from employment discrimination would see their laws trumped by a so-called small government Republican with a religious bent against the way they live their lives,” Bush wrote. “This is exactly where the focus of our legislators doesn’t need to be. We have real problems in this state. Turning back the clock on equal rights isn’t how anyone should be spending their time.”

John Wright is a freelance journalist based in Austin. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Published at 9:06 am CST
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