86th LegislatureIssuesState HouseChairwoman Thompson Unexpectedly Cuts Committee Testimony Short for Therapy Bill

The unorthodox move denied some Texans the ability to publicly testify against legislation they view as an abridgment of religious liberty.
May 2, 2019
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Last night, some Texans were unable to voice their opposition to House Bill 517 when public testimony in the Committee on Public Health was unexpectedly limited to a total of eight individuals.

House Bill 517, filed by Rep. Celia Israel (D-Austin), would specifically bar mental health professionals from providing services designed to change behavior relating to sexual orientation to any child younger than 18. If passed, a mental health professional who provides such services would be subject to professional discipline by state regulatory agencies, with the possibility of having their license to operate jeopardized.

The bill is co-authored by 22 other Democratic representatives.

This bill is seen by opponents as an attack on free speech and the religious freedom of therapists, as well as a limitation on the therapy choices available to families and children in Texas.

The bill provides for no exceptions, even if a teenager desires and voluntarily requests such services.

The Texan Mug

When the committee hearing began, Chairwoman Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston), announced that she would be limiting public testimony on each bill saying that she would allow for the same number of opponents to testify as there were supporters testifying on a bill. While it is routine for committee chairs to limit the time for testimony on bills, as Thompson has done in the past, it is highly unusual to limit the number of people testifying.

Jonathan Saenz, President of Texas Values, said that in his eight years working in and around the state legislature he had never seen a limit such as this imposed by a committee chair.

Committees will often hear testimony into the early morning hours in order to allow the public to make their voices heard.

After public testimony on the bill was unexpectedly closed, Texas Values went Live on Facebook with a group of bill opponents. The 18-minute long recording is available here.

In the video, Texans who had traveled all day to voice their opposition to HB 517 were able to do so, albeit without inclusion in the public record.

The bill was left pending in committee.

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Katie Fisher

Katie Fisher

Katie Fisher is a licensed attorney and writer with a broad range of political, private sector, and ministry experience. A California transplant, Katie earned her J.D. at the age of 21 from Oak Brook College of Law, subsequently passing the bar exam and going into private law practice. Texas became home when she moved to Houston to serve as the Deputy Director of Delegate Operations for the 2016 Cruz for President campaign. She currently resides in the Austin area with her husband and daughter.