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Texas Legislature 2019

Texas narrows law barring contractors from boycotting Israel

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill weeks after a federal judge blocked the existing state law in response to a lawsuit.

Governor Greg Abbott and House at a press conference regarding property taxes on May 1, 2019.

Texas Legislature 2019

The 86th Legislature runs from Jan. 8 to May 27. From the state budget to health care to education policy — and the politics behind it all — we focus on what Texans need to know about the biennial legislative session.

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Two weeks after a federal judge blocked the enforcement of a state law that prohibits government agencies in Texas from doing business with contractors who are boycotting Israel, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill this week narrowing the controversial law to exclude individual contractors.

The previous version of the law, signed in 2017, mandated that the state could not have a contract with a company unless the company signs a statement saying it does not boycott Israel. Texas is one of 25 states that have passed such measures in recent years in response to a pro-Palestinian movement that aimed to change Israel's treatment of Palestine through the boycott, divestment and sanction — known as BDS — of businesses and organizations that support Israel.

The Texas law has drawn increased attention, in part due to complaints from some individual contractors wanting to do business with public entities like school districts and universities who learned they would have to sign pledges that they won't boycott Israel.

House Bill 793 by state Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, narrowed the existing law so it only applies to state contracts with companies that have more than 10 full-time employees and when the contract is for more than $100,000. It took effect immediately Tuesday after Abbott signed it.

However, a federal judge temporarily blocked the state law in April, saying it violates the First Amendment and threatens to “suppress unpopular ideas.” U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman issued the injunction in response to ongoing litigation between Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Bahia Amawi, an independently contracted school speech pathologist. Amawi lost her job at Pflugerville ISD in September after refusing to sign a required anti-BDS addendum to her contract. With the help of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, she sued the state and Pflugerville ISD in December.

On May 1, one week after the law was temporarily blocked, Amawi signed a new contract for Pflugerville ISD without the anti-BDS addendum.

When the Texas Senate debated HB 793 earlier this month, the bill's senate sponsor, Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, said the bill doesn't change anything Pitman identified as a "defect" in the existing anti-boycott Israel law.

"The bill primarily makes our original intent clear, which is that it was not to pertain to small contracts and individuals," Creighton said.

The Texas Attorney General's office has not responded to requests for comment about whether the new law would affect the ongoing litigation.

Earlier this year, before a federal judge clocked the original law last month, Texas blacklisted Airbnb for its alleged boycotting of Israel after the company removed its listings in the West Bank. The decision immediately impacted state workers, as well as some faculty and students at public universities attempting to set up travel around the country. Although Airbnb denied it was boycotting Israel, the company ultimately reversed its decision last month to remove its properties in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

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