AUSTIN — An openly gay freshman member of the Texas House late Thursday derailed a bill backed by religious conservatives but denounced by opponents as a tool to target the LGBT community for discrimination.
"Hopefully, this is the day of discrimination against the LGBT community dies in Texas," said State Rep. Julie Johnson, D-Carrollton, after using a procedural maneuver to shut down debate of the so-called "Save Chick-Fil-A" bill before it began.
At issue was House Bill 3172 by Fort Worth Republican Matt Krause that sought to prohibit cities and other governmental entities from taking "adverse actions" against businesses that publicly espouse religious convictions.
The measure came in response to a decision by the city of San Antonio to deny Chick-Fil-A vendor space in its airport because of the fast-food chain's vocal opposition to same-sex marriage.
The faith-based lobby Texas Values had organized a "save Chick-Fil-A" rally at the Texas Capitol last month. It also stationed members and supporters of the organization outside the House chamber this week, encouraging members to vote for the measure.
As it turned out, House members never got the chance.
No sooner did Krause step to the rostrum to explain his bill, Johnson interrupted him with what in parliamentary terms is called a "point of order," questioning whether all House rules were followed as the measure made its way through the legislative mill.
After consulting with House parliamentarians, Speaker Dennis Bonnen struck down Johnson's point. But she was ready with another — this one asserting that the official analysis of the bill's implication was misleading.
Again, Bonnen huddled with the parliamentarians on his high perch at the head of the chamber. Lawmakers from both sides crowded to watch the deliberations, which lasted several minutes.
As the huddle broke up, signalling that a decision had been reached, Johnson — a member of the House LGBTQ Caucus — could be seen pumping her fist as she stepped down on her way back to her seat on the House floor.
Bonnen then announced that the second point of order was valid.
The ruling effectively killed the measure because Thursday was the deadline for preliminary passing of the House bill before the 2019 legislative session ends May 27.
A similar bill has been bottled up in a Senate committee since it was filed in March, suggesting it has virtually no chance of moving to the floor for a vote in the session's remaining weeks.
Texas Values president Jonatha Saenz said his group is not ready to give up on the measure, signaling it might be revived as an amendment to similar legislation that is still working its way through the legislative mill.
“This commonsense religious freedom effort is far from over," he said. "We will not allow the clear will of the majority of Texans and a bipartisan majority of the Texas Legislature to be thwarted by a few."
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