What does boycotting Israel have to do with Hurricane Harvey relief?

By Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

DICKINSON, Texas - Questions were quick to follow when the city of Dickinson posted an application online for a Hurricane Harvey repair grant. An item on the application requires a person to pledge they will not boycott Israel.

Channel 2 Investigates learned the language was included because of a new state law, House Bill 89, that went into effect on Sept. 1.

What is House Bill 89?

House Bill 89 states government entities cannot invest public funds in companies that boycott Israel. The law requires that before a government entity enters into a contract with a company, it will verify in writing the company "does not boycott Israel," and "will not boycott Israel during the term of the contract."

Governor Abbott signed the law in May and it went into effect Sept.1. You can watch the signing ceremony here.

The governor has previously stated his support of Israel as a U.S. ally and major trading partner with Texas.

How does it apply to hurricane relief in Dickinson?

Mayor Julie Masters said the language was included on the advice of the city attorney. Masters said even though the grant came from private donations, once the city took control of the money, it became public funds. Masters said the grant is offered to both private citizens and small businesses, which is why the city attorney felt the new law applied.

"We are asking the state for some clarification. We erred on the side of caution, because we don't know if the law applies to citizens who hire contractors, who then use sub-contractors," Masters said.

Could the language be changed on Dickinson's application?

Yes. Masters said the city attorney is seeking clarification from the state and will address the issue again with city council Tuesday. Masters said she spoke with one of the authors of the law, who told her she believes the law only applies on the state level.

What has been the reaction to Dickinson's application?

Residents KPRC2 spoke with seemed more perplexed than upset.

"I understand (the city) has to protect its investment. As silly as it sounds, I don't have a problem with not boycotting Israel," Calvin Huffman said.

"I'm neutral with it," Miriam Rosales said.

Masters said she has gotten an earful from all sides; mostly from outside the city. The American Civil Liberties Union issued a strongly worded response, calling Dickinson's grant application "reminiscent of McCarthy-era loyalty oaths."

"The government cannot condition hurricane relief or any other public benefit on a commitment to refrain from protected political expression," read a statement from the ACLU's Texas Legal Director, Andre Segura.

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