SENATE NEARS COMPLETION OF SESSION AGENDA
(AUSTIN) — After Wednesday, the Senate has passed legislation addressing almost every topic put forth by Governor Greg Abbott for the first called session of the year. "Members, we have passed all but two bills on the governor's proclamation, I believe, this week," said Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, speaking from the Senate rostrum. He said he expects the body to finish off the list by Monday. The Senate, however, will likely have to consider, debate and vote on all these bills again, as a quorum break over the elections bill in the House all but guarantees that these bills will die when the special session ends on August 6th. Abbott has said he will call the Legislature into session again and again until he can sign these bills into law.
Two more of those topics were addressed with bills passed Wednesday. The first deals with what its author says is the censorship of constitutionally protected speech in what has become the new public square. "A small handful of social media sites are driving the national narrative and they've got massive influence over the progress and development of medicine and science, social justice movement, elections and public thought," said Mineola Senator Bryan Hughes. "We've seen many examples of how these platforms censor both liberal and conservative speech." There is a difference, he says, between content moderation - those decisions social media companies make regarding offensive, illegal or obscene content, and viewpoint moderation that prohibits expression of personal opinions. "We expect them to moderate content: violent, overtly sexual posts -that's important," said Hughes. "But they must not be allowed to deny you participation based on your viewpoint, including your political preferences or your religion."
His bill, SB 5, would prohibit large social media companies from banning a person or removing the content a person posts based on the viewpoint expressed in the post. If a user believes that has happened to them, the proposed law would permit them to file suit and seek to have their account or content reinstated by court order. If they prevail against the company, the losing platform would have to cover the plaintiff's attorney's fees. "We're making sure Texans are empowered to have a recourse when this happens to them," said Hughes. It would also require companies to create a robust complaint reporting system, where people who feel their content was wrongly removed from the site can receive feedback regarding their specific issue.
Also approved Wednesday is a bill that would require that students that want to participate in public high-school or collegiate athletics do so in the gender division based on their original birth certificate. State high school competition laws already require competition based on birth certificate, but because a person who transitions gender can get a new birth certificate that corresponds with their gender expression, Lubbock Senator and bill author Charles Perry says that leaves a loophole for biologically-born males to participate in girls' sports where they have an unfair advantage. He pointed to Connecticut, where two transgender girls won 15 separate championships in track and field in 2018. "The biological advantage granted to a male at birth…to compete in these types of sports is clearly evidenced through actual competitions," said Perry. Perry said he doesn't know how often this occurs in Texas because the state doesn't record changes to birth certificates. "If the bill passes we will clearly know going forward," he said. The Senate also considered and approved a similar bill by Perry that would only apply to public schools and not colleges.
The Senate will reconvene Friday, July 16th at 11 a.m.