Texas Catholic Voice May 1, 2023

In this issue of the Texas Catholic Voice:

  • Help stop bad bills about immigration and payday lending ...
  • We're hiring! Learn more ...
  • Bills in hearing, and much more!

A Message from Jennifer Allmon, Executive Director

Only 29 days to go in the 88th Legislature and the deadline for House bills to be reported from committee is one week from today. There is an important distinction between "voting out” a bill and “reporting” a bill from committee. After a committee votes on a bill, it typically takes at least 48 hours for the committee to compile a report on the vote and send that report to the House committee coordinator's office. The more testimony or the longer a bill is, the more time it takes. Then, the committee coordinator’s office has to send the bill to the Calendar Committee, which can sometimes take another day. Early in the session, these extra steps don’t impact the bill’s chances of making it to the House calendar, but as we are only eight days from the House deadline for setting the final House bill calendar, these extra steps can kill a bill.  

We are disappointed several bad immigration-related bills were voted out of the House Committee on State Affairs last Thursday night. We were hopeful they would not hold any committee votes but it seems there is momentum for these bills. Please call the House Calendars Committee and urge them not to set the following bills: 

HB 7 establishes a border court, a compensation fund for property damage at the border, and grants for universities to offer programs to recruit, train, and retain professionals in border safety. It funds border facilities and physical barriers, including walls and fences, and establishes a border safety oversight committee. The TCCB opposes this bill because the Border Protection Court Program has a very vague scope and unclear due process provisions. 

HB 20 by Rep. Matt Schaefer amends the powers and duties of the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to add the defense and security of the Texas air, maritime and land borders. It also adds a new division within DPS called "The Border Protection Unit," with a chief appointed by the governor whose responsibilities would include oversight and governance over civilian enforcement. Additionally, it authorizes the unit to construct a wall. In the event of a “state of invasion,” the unit chief would be authorized to deter and repel persons attempting to enter the state illegally and return all aliens to Mexico, including by use of force. The TCCB opposes this bill because it does not recognize the responsibility of the government to morally ascertain the difference among traffickers, victims, and migrants with a legitimate claim for asylum, and it allows for civilian activity in law enforcement. 

HB 82 by Rep. David Spiller gives the governor authority to coordinate, develop, and execute an interstate compact for border security among interested states with or without approval of the US Congress. The TCCB opposes this bill because it encroaches on the federal government’s jurisdiction over matters of immigration. 

Payday Lending  

Also of concern are HB 225 and HB 3827.

HB 225 broadens the number of loans subject to the acquisition charge and installment account handling charge in cash advances, enabling lenders to make larger loans at the very high rates of 80-100% APR.

HB 3827 gives free rein to new wage advance products, with no fee caps, no affordability standards, and no real protections for consumers.

As Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller said, “These bills would make licensed loans look more like payday loans, taking Texas in the opposite direction we need to go. We have been working over the past decade to curtail high-cost lending abuses in support of human dignity and the common good. Supporting alternative financial products, such as St. Vincent de Paul’s Mini Loan Program and payday conversion loans, and Catholic Charities’ financial assistance programs, are much better options.”  

Please urge the Calendars Committee NOT to set these bills as well. 

In other news, we are still awaiting a vote on the parental choice bills heard a few weeks ago in the House Committee on Public Education, but if they don’t make the deadline, Senator Creighton’s SB 8 is still alive and well and will likely be given a hearing in the House. 

Last week I testified on SB 24 and SB 1849.

SB 24 transfers prevention and early intervention services from DFPS to HHSC and expands the Alternatives to Abortion program in order to assist families in choosing life or who need support services. Health and Human Services is a better fit for these programs as they are intended to build strong families whereas involvement with the Department of Family and Protective Services is viewed with apprehension.

SB 24 also incentivizes evidence-based programming but does not mandate it. This type of programming comes with a hefty price tag and requiring it would shut out smaller providers in rural areas who are meeting the acute needs of families in their communities.  

SB 1849 creates an interagency search engine that combines the do-not-hire databases from each state agency so that schools and service providers can access one database. There is simply no justification to silo background information when hiring for any position involving the care, education, or rehabilitation of children. This bill will help prevent predators from slipping through the cracks.  

Finally, SB 14 and HB 3199 are set for the House calendar tomorrow. SB 14 prohibits the use of state funds, including Medicaid and Chip reimbursement, paid to any entity that provides or facilitates a procedure or treatment to change a child’s biological sex. HB 3199 requires applicants for employment at childcare facilities to submit a pre-employment affidavit disclosing whether they have ever been charged with, adjudicated for, or convicted of having an inappropriate relationship with a minor. TCCB supports these bills to protect children from harm. 

Bills in Committee May 1-5

Please contact your legislators to indicate your position on these bills. Click on the link below for Who Represents Me to obtain their contact information.

House Higher Education Committee, Monday, 10 A.M. 

SB 15 by Sen. Middleton prohibits college athletics teams from having students play in competitions designed for the biological sex that is opposite to their biological sex. The TCCB supports this bill to ensure fairness in college sports. 

House Ways and Means Committee, Monday, 10 A.M.  

HB 3691 by Rep. Hefner changes the word "handicapped" to "persons with disabilities" and adds a definition of "charitable housing services" and requirements for such agencies. In order to be exempt from property tax, they must provide housing and one of the listed services (such as assisted living or health services) to persons 62 years of age or older in financial need. The TCCB supports this bill to assist agencies that serve low-income elderly members of our communities.  

House Human Services Committee, Tuesday, 8 A.M.  

SB 182 by Sen. Miles requires each Department of Family and Protective Services or Texas Juvenile Justice Board and Texas Juvenile Justice Department employee or department contractor who becomes aware of a criminal offense of another employee or a contractor against a person receiving services to report the offense to the DPS. The TCCB supports this bill to offer greater protection to vulnerable people.  

Senate Criminal Justice Committee, Tuesday, 8:30 A.M. 

HB 279 by Rep. Jetton amends the penal code by treating an individual with disabilities as a child in human trafficking. In the cases of adults, force, fraud, or coercion must be proven but not in the cases of children. The TCCB supports this bill to protect vulnerable persons with disabilities from being trafficked. 

House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee, Wednesday, 8 A.M. 

SB 694 by Sen. Hughes ensures that a religious organization or its security personnel is immune from civil liability for any act or omission resulting in death, damage, or injury if the security personnel was acting in the course of employment or volunteer duties or functions to provide security services to the organization, including an intentional act involving possession or use of a firearm. The TCCB supports this bill to better enable religious organizations to protect themselves from security threats. 

House State Affairs Committee, Wednesday, 10:30 A.M. or ADJ. 

HB 1882 by Rep. Bhojani adds All Saints Day, Diwali, Eid al-Adha, Eid al-Fitr, Passover, Vaisakhi, Vesak to the list of optional holidays. The TCCB supports this bill to increase options for people of faith to observe holy days. 

HB 5000 by Rep. Kitzman makes it a state jail felony to operate a childcare facility that provides 24-hour care to undocumented children and adults including those in federal custody. The TCCB opposes this bill which will make providing shelter to migrant children and families a felony. 

House Environmental Regulation Committee, Thursday, 10:30 A.M.  

HB 94 by Rep. Johnson requires the TCEQ executive director, in determining whether to approve an application for a concrete batch plant, to base the decision on the potential harm to local property values and the location of the facility relative to homes, schools, places of worship, parks, and other community assets. The TCCB supports this bill to promote the health of vulnerable communities.  

HB 406 by Rep. Collier allows a representative of a school, place of worship, licensed day-care center, hospital, or medical facility to the list of persons who may request a public hearing from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality related to the construction of a concrete plant. The TCCB supports this bill to improve transparency and community engagement in environmental planning and regulation.  

HB 926 by Rep. Dutton makes a representative of a school, place of worship, licensed day-care center, hospital, or medical facility located within 440 yards of the proposed plant to be able to request a hearing related to the construction of a concrete plant. "Representative" is defined to mean a person in a decision-making capacity with fiduciary responsibility or that person's designee. The TCCB supports this bill to encourage public input in environmental permitting processes that may affect Catholic schools, places of worship, and hospitals.  

Daily House Calendar – Monday 

HB 400 by Rep. Klick creates a psychiatric specialty innovation grant program to award grants to medical schools for residents specializing in adult and pediatric psychiatric care. The TCCB supports this bill to increase the workforce in Texas for mental health care. 

HB 250 by Rep. Gonzalez allows for certain crime victims (e.g., victims of stalking, family violence, or stalking, dependents, a family member or household member of any victim) to receive certain crime victim assistance, including temporary and emergency lodging, expenses for transportation and meals, relocation expenses, and housing rental payments. The TCCB supports this bill to protect and restore victims of crime. 

HB 4070 by Rep. Schaefer removes private schools from the entities required to post multiple signs on campus about penalties for human trafficking. The TCCB supports this bill to remove expensive unfunded mandates from private schools. 

HB 1883 by Rep. Bhojani ensures that assessment instruments are not administered on religious holy days including All Saints Day, Christmas, Diwali, Eid al-Adha, Eid al-Fitr, Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Vaisakhi, Vesak, and Yom Kippur. The TCCB supports this bill to allow students of faith greater observance of religious holy days.  

HB 1747 by Rep. Leach streamlines the licensing review process while allowing licensing boards to consider specific serious violent and sexual offenses regardless of elapsed time without reoffending. It also requires a preponderance of the evidence standard to deny a license. The TCCB supports this bill to support successful reentry to the workforce for a person with a criminal record. 

HB 2700 by Rep. Guillen amends the penal code regarding the possession or promotion of child pornography to include in the definition of "visual material" any depiction of a child who is recognizable as an actual person by the person's face, likeness or other distinguishing characteristic and whose image was used to create computer-generated visual material using artificial intelligence or other computer software. The TCCB supports this bill to protect children from digital victimization. 

HB 247 by Rep. Thompson allows courts to reconsider the merits or grant relief on a motion for habeas corpus on subsequent application if certain conditions are met, including when the attorney representing the state consents in writing. The TCCB supports this bill to promote reentry of the incarcerated in our society by allowing review of sentences. 

HB 3158 by Rep. Leach allows a licensing authority to accept an application from an inmate imprisoned in the Department of Criminal Justice. The TCCB supports this bill to assist offenders with re-entry and rehabilitation. 

HB 2134 by Rep. Thimesch allows a more restrictive regulation of sexually oriented businesses if it is in relation to the hours of operation of a massage establishment or therapist, or if the regulation relates to the ownership or operation of a massage establishment by a person who has three or more arrests or citations for public indecency, organized crime, trafficking, or money laundering. The TCCB supports this bill to limit the operation of sexually oriented businesses and prevent human trafficking. 

Daily House Calendar – Tuesday 

HB 156 by Rep. Moody allows the Board of Pardons and Paroles to hear clemency matters by videoconference. Furthermore, in capital cases, the attorney or other person representing the inmate and any person representing the family of the victim may appear in person or be present on the telephone call or video conference call. An in-person hearing must be held at the correctional facility where the inmate is confined. The board can deliberate privately after holding a hearing, but the presiding officer must announce publicly each member's decision on whether to grant clemency. The TCCB supports this bill to improve the clemency process in capital cases. 

HB 671 by Rep. Gonzalez requires the Texas Veterans Commission to conduct a suicide prevention campaign to provide veterans with information regarding suicide prevention. They may collaborate and contract with community-based, nonprofit, or private organizations to conduct the campaign. The TCCB supports this bill to encourage suicide prevention. 

HB 823 by Rep. Allen authorizes TDCJ inmates to be eligible for certain occupational licenses, including information security and business continuity planning, electricians, and barbering and cosmetology. Furthermore, it allows inmates to perform air conditioning, refrigeration-related work, and electrical work if the work is performed part of a reentry program or under supervision acceptable to the department. The TCCB supports this bill to promote the rehabilitation and reentry of incarcerated persons. 

HB 1004 by Rep. Shaheen adds to the covered definition of relevant persons in the offenses of trafficking of persons and of compelling prostitution a "person with disability." "Person with disability" is defined to mean a person who, because of mental disease or defect, is incapable of appraising the nature of the prohibited conduct or to resist engaging in that conduct. A person commits an offense if they cause by "any means" a person with a disability to commit prostitution or receives a benefit from participating in a venture involving sexual activity, regardless of whether they know the person is disabled or was trafficked. The TCCB supports this bill to protect persons with disability from human trafficking. 

HB 3199 by Rep. Noble allows child serving organizations to use the pre-employment affidavit that is used for applicants for jobs in public and private schools which requires applicants to discuss whether they ever been charged with, adjudicated for, or convicted of having an inappropriate relationship with a minor. The TCCB supports expanding access to this effective tool in deterring child predators from employment in child-serving organizations. 

SB 14 by Rep. Oliverson prohibits the use of state funds for gender transitioning, reassignment or treatments for children and makes performance of gender transitioning or reassignment treatment or procedure on a child a prohibited act by a physician, subject to loss of license. The TCCB supports this legislation which prevents the advancement of gender ideology and protects children from harm. 

Senate Intent Calendar 

SB 1072 by Sen. Hughes establishes a SHAC for charter schools. It allows the board of trustees to adopt a policy allowing the SHAC to determine circumstances in which a school district employee may discuss matters of human sexuality with students and a campus may host an extracurricular event related to human sexuality. If the board adopts such a policy, the board must notify parents of said policy. The TCCB supports this bill to increase parental engagement and awareness of human sexuality instruction in charter schools. 

SB 1192 by Sen. Zaffirini adds applicants for employment, contract or volunteer positions in the regulatory services division of the Health and Services Commission to the list of those for whom a criminal history record may be obtained. The TCCB supports this bill to increase access to criminal background checks. 

HB 842 by Sen. Whitmire prohibits the extension of the period of a driver's license suspension for certain driving while license invalid convictions. The TCCB supports this bill to assist those whose licenses have been suspended and have paid their debt to society. 

May is Mary's month! Happy May Day!
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No Upcoming Executions

The Texas bishops ask for clemency for all on death row in our country and pray for the abolition of the death penalty.  

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Pope Francis' prayer intention for May

For church movements and groups
We pray that Church movements and groups may rediscover their mission of evangelization each day, placing their own charisms at the service of needs in the world.

Prayer for the Legislature

Please pray for all our public servants and elected officials, including our Governor, Lt. Governor, House Speaker, lawmakers, and their staff, that the Lord may grant them wisdom and prudence to work for the common good of all the people of Texas.

The Texas Catholic Voice is a publication of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops. For more information, write news@txcatholic.org or call 512-339-9882.