(April 12, 2019 / JNS) Amid legal challenges over the state’s anti-BDS law, the Texas legislature approved a measure to tweak the law that bars governmental entities from contracting with businesses that support a boycott of or sanctions against Israel.
The legislation, which was sponsored by Republican State Rep. Phil King, sought to preserve the spirit of the law, while addressing concerns that it might violate the First Amendment rights.
“Two years ago, the Legislature put this policy in place that said we didn’t want taxpayer dollars being spent to promote a boycott against Israel,” King said from the House floor on Wednesday, the Austin American-Statesman reported. “The intent of this legislation is to narrow the (law) … which had some unintended consequences.”
The current law requires companies and individuals to certify that they do not support the boycott of Israel before entering into contract with any state government entities. However, the new Texas bill would limit that scope to exclude individuals and smaller companies, such as those with fewer than 10 full-time employees or valued under $100,000.
Legal challenges to current Texas law argue that the law should only be applied to companies and not individuals; the new legislation seeks to make that distinction clearer.
To date, 27 U.S. states have approved anti-BDS laws, and the federal government is also looking to pass a resolution in support of state and local governments to punish state or local contractors from engaging in boycotting Israel. However, Democrats and groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union contend that the law violates First Amendment rights and have filed lawsuits in several states, including Arkansas, Kansas, Texas and Arizona, to challenge those laws.
Marc Greendorfer, founder of the Zachor Legal Institute, told JNS that while he believes that the current Texas law is constitutional and enforceable in its current form, there is still room for legal improvement to erase any gray areas.
“We believe that the problem that anti-BDS laws should address is institutional, rather than individual, adoption of BDS-type discrimination against Israel and Jews,” he said.
“To the extent that state anti-BDS laws are being amended to sharpen the focus on institutional discrimination, that is something we support, and we hope that this will lead to increased enforcement of the laws,” said Greendorfer.
In January, a federal judge upheld an Arkansas upheld that state’s anti-BDS law.
Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Miller threw out a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the Arkansas Times, claiming that the measure violated the First Amendment.
“It [the Times] may even call upon others to boycott Israel, write in support of such boycotts, and engage in picketing and pamphleteering to that effect,” wrote Miller. “This does not mean, however, that its decision to refuse to deal, or to refrain from purchasing certain goods, is protected by the First Amendment.”
Meanwhile in Texas, the resolution to amend the 2017 anti-BDS law will head to that state’s Senate after final approval in the House.