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Opinion: Texas Law Needs to Be Updated
By Charlene Longstaff

On October 14, 2020, Governor Greg Abbott, the Texas Behavioral Health Executive Council, and the Texas State Board of Social Work Examiners ruled in favor of changing the code of conduct to allow social workers to deny services to those who are LGBTQ+ and/or have disabilities. Two weeks later, the board reversed the original ruling and is sought the opinion of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton regarding the legality of the ruling.

An unofficial opinion has been issued from Darrel Spinks, executive director of the council, stating that it is unlikely that Paxton will disagree with Abbott’s ruling, adding, “Your rule needs to match what the statute is.”      

It is currently estimated to take at least 90 days to get a formal opinion from the attorney general. Paxton has not issued an opinion as of yet.

As a student in a master’s program for social work, the news of the ruling came as a shock that has created mixed feelings of confusion and frustration. However, the wave of advocacy that has risen to challenge this ruling and led to its removal has created a deep sense of pride for the social work profession. That pride was eclipsed when reading that it is not the end of the battle—there is still work to be done.     

A question that keeps entering discussions with fellow social work students and peers is “How did it get passed in the first place when it violates the Code of Ethics?” The ruling was passed because the governor and the board recognized a gap between two laws. A law from 1999 did not explicitly include protections for those that are LGBTQ+ and/or those with disabilities.

Rather than changing the law that is 20 years old to meet the standards of the Code of Ethics for the social work profession, Governor Abbott and the council have chosen to allow for discrimination against those who are LGBTQ+ and/or disabled. The State law from 1999 should be updated to fit the 2013 Texas Administrative Code regarding social workers. Outdated laws should be replaced to keep up with the most current laws and codes.

These actions have raised many questions. For example, if people need help, why are we creating barriers for them? What if they do not reach out for services again? Is it being communicated that they are not worth supporting?     

These are questions social workers and many others ask in light of the possible ruling. The goal to ensure that two separate rules and codes match is admirable, but it is not admirable if it is at the expense of those being discriminated against. Lives are affected by these decisions. I believe the next step is to have the Texas Law from 1999 be updated to meet the standards and ethics-based code from 2013.

Senator Jose Menendez and Rep. Jessica Gonzalez plan to introduce nodicrimination legislation to prevent any future discrimination.  

— Charlene Longstaff is a current MSW graduate student and writer in Texas.