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Till conscientious objection do us part


County clerk marriage license bill clears senate

By Richard Lee
Texas Senate News

COUNTY CLERKS with a sincerely-held religious objection to same-sex marriage could pass responsibility for granting licenses to such couples to a deputy under a bill that received final approval by the Texas senate on Wednesday.               Brian Birdwell
If it becomes law, senate bill 522 would allow county clerks to notify their respective commissioners’ courts that they cannot issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and the commissioners to then delegate the responsibility to another clerk’s office employee, or even an outside agency if no one in the office is willing.
The bill would prohibit a person from refusing to issue a license for a reason that is protected under law, such as religious affiliation or race. It would also permit judges to refuse to perform a marriage ceremony under the same sincerely-held religious objection.
Bill author and Granbury senator Brian Birdwell said he believes that forcing people to violate their religious beliefs at work is unconstitutional.
He said: “Under this bill, county clerks will be able to fully follow the law without being forced to compromise their religious liberty, the license is issued and is executed to the couple requiring the license and simultaneously the right of conscience to clerks and judges is protected”.
Also on Wednesday, the senate approved a bill aimed at reducing prescription opioid addiction and abuse
in Texas.                   Don Huffines
The bill’s author, McAllen senator Chuy Hinojosa, said problems with opioid prescription have become a crisis.
He said: “Drug overdoses now kill more Americans than HIV or AIDS did at its peak, more than gun homicides and car crashes combined. In 2015, 52,000 people died of drug overdoses, more overdoses than any other period in US history.”
His bill, SB 316, seeks a requirement for doctors and pharmacists to check a state database, called the prescription monitoring program, that tracks opioid prescriptions before they prescribe or dispense one to a patient.
If passed into law, it would also require pharmacists to report any opioid prescription they dispense to the database within one business day and would also allow the state’s board of pharmacists, which operates the database, to monitor it to find ways to identify problematic prescription trends like doctor shopping and send electronic alerts to the doctors.
Elsewhere this week, on Monday the senate finance committee approved a bill that would expand sales-tax collections for online purchases, possibly earning the state a quarter-billion dollars each year.
Current Texas law requires that the customer calculate and remit the sales tax on out-of-state internet purchases to the comptroller. San Antonio senator Carlos Uresti said the law is little known and online shoppers seldom comply with it.
“The result is that out-of-state retailers are able to offer goods at prices that are 8.25 per cent cheaper than those of local businesses, putting them at a competitive disadvantage”, he said.
Uresti’s bill, SB 1713, would require internet marketplaces with more than $250,000 in annual sales or more than 1,000 transactions to calculate, collect and remit sales taxes for purchases made by their Texas customers.
The senator said studies have estimated that Texas could be missing out on upwards of $250 million in sales-tax revenue every year from internet purchases.
The bill remains pending in committee.
Also on Monday, the senate state affairs committee voted in favor of legislation that would allow first responders to carry a concealed handgun in places where it is normally prohibited.
Dallas senator Don Huffines told members that firemen and EMTs often find themselves in danger on the job.
He said: “Most recently, firefighters and paramedics put themselves in harm’s way when they assisted police officers with retrieving downed officers during the July 7, 2016, ambush of law-enforcement [officers] in Dallas.
“Similar incidents are reported with regularity. Nevertheless these brave men and women are deprived of their liberty to defend themselves.”
Huffines’ bill, SB 1408, would permit a first responder with a license to carry to take a 20-hour course on topics such as self-defense and conflict de-escalation. They would then be allowed to carry a handgun concealed on their person while working even in places where to do so is normally prohibited.
The bill is now headed to the full senate for consideration.

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