The Texas Senate passed a bill on Tuesday that would protect licensed professionals who want to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people, the Dallas Observer reports. Senate Bill 17 would protect anyone in Texas who is licensed by a state agency to practice, including doctors, lawyers, teachers, and plumbers from being denied or stripped licenses if they discriminate based on a "sincerely held religious belief."
The bill passed by a vote of 19-12 with one Republican voting against it and one Democrat voting for the legislation. The Senate must vote on the bill again and then send the bill to the House where it will go up for a third vote.
Republican senator Charles Perry authored the bill and, according to the Observer, said the bill would help professionals who exercise their religious beliefs keep their paychecks.
"It's not licensing discrimination at any level," Perry said. Several Texas lawmakers have denounced the bill.
"You know that saying, 'You can put lipstick on a pig?'" senator Borris Miles said, according to the Observer. "Senator Perry, this is a discrimination bill."
Another Democratic senator, Juan Hinojosa, said the bill was an open door to discrimination.
"This bill really allows discrimination against gay people, against Hispanics, against African Americans, against anybody you don't like ... as long as you can fit that into a sincere religious belief," Hinojosa said.
Senator Perry insisted that nothing in the bill contradicts existing federal or state civil rights law.
"Your skin color is still protected," Perry said. "It has been and will be and should be."
Part of the bill is a provision requiring medical providers to treat patients who are at immediate risk of death or who have sustained a serious injury. The bill as it is currently written does not apply to police officers.
Democratic lawmakers attempted to file amendments that would prohibit discrimination against sexual orientation or gender identity, but that amendment failed by a 19-12 vote. Another amendment would require license holders to report any time they deny services. That amendment also failed by a 19-12 vote.
In a statement, LGBTQ+ advocacy organization Equality Texas urged Texans to "reject this discriminatory legislation."
"[Lt. Governor] Dan Patrick has doubled down on his attack on the LGBTQ community, moving out of bathrooms and into every single licensed profession in Texas," Samantha Smoot, Interim Executive Director of Equality Texas, said.
Smoot said the legislation would "open the doors to discrimination" and cause "real harm" to LGBTQ+ Texans.
"Dan Patrick has launched a whole new war against LGBTQ people, and this 'license to discriminate' bill is our #1 threat this session," Smoot said.
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