Monday, November 29, 2010

Make the Rules Apply to Every Student

SB 66 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini would close an administrative loophole that prevents schools from expelling transfer students that violate the school's code of student conduct. To understand why the loophole exist in the first place let's take a look at how laws are made in Texas.

There are three major sets of laws that govern the State of Texas. The first is the Texas State Constitution. The State Constitution is superseded by federal law, but takes precedence over any other state law. It can only be amended if 2/3 of both the House and Senate agree to a statewide vote and then a majority of Texans vote to approve the amendment.

The second is State Statute. State Statute is superseded by the State Constitution, but takes precedence over Administrative Code. Statute is written by the Texas Legislature and must pass by a majority in both the Texas House and Senate and then be signed (or at least not vetoed) by the governor. All of the House and Senate bills discussed on this website are attempts to amend State Statute.

The third, and the issue that SB 66 is attempting to address, is Administrative Code. The Constitution and Statute contain enough laws to fill multiple bookshelves, but there are enough questions about exactly what some of those laws mean that the various state agencies have to create rules about exactly how to enforce the law. Different agencies go about this in different ways, but almost every state agency has a governing body that sets its administrative code.

In setting the administrative code the agency is supposed to look at the "legislative intent" of the legislature in passing the law (or proposed constitutional amendment) that is being interpreted. This is done by carefully reviewing the language of the law and looking at the hearings and floor debates that took place as the law was being considered.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is responsible for creating rules to clarify the Texas Education Code. When the TEA took a look at Education Code Sec 25.036 the rule they created caused a loophole that meant that transfer students can not be expelled, even for severe violations of the school's student code of conduct.

Education Code Sec. 25.036. TRANSFER OF STUDENT. (a) Any child, other than a high school graduate, who is younger than 21 years of age and eligible for enrollment on September 1 of any school year may transfer annually from the child's school district of residence to another district in this state if both the receiving district and the applicant parent or guardian or person having lawful control of the child jointly approve and timely agree in writing to the transfer. (b) A transfer agreement under this section shall be filed and preserved as a receiving district record for audit purposes of the agency.
Seems reasonable right? If a parent wants to transfer their student to a different school district, and everyone involved is agreeable the law lets them do it. This could be used to move a child who has been the subject of bullying to a new school, or to give a child who has fallen in with a bad crowd and started making poor decisions a fresh start, or just make the process of dropping the kids off for school a little easier for a parent who commutes. It's a common sense solution. The problem arises from one word - "annually" - and the TEA's somewhat creative interpretation of it.

The TEA has determined that the limit of one transfer per year imposed by the statute means that a student, once transferred, can not be removed from their new district. This ties the hands of school administrators making it impossible for them to expel a transfer student, even for egregious violations of the student code of conduct.

(Why would the TEA create such a nonsensical rule? The money local school districts receive from the state is determined, in part, by student enrollment. Every time a student transfers districts the TEA must recalculate the disbursement. It would seem that, rather than do what's right for students, the TEA decided to save themselves some paperwork.)

SB 66 corrects the loophole created by the TEA rule by deleting the word "annually" from the statute and adding a provision specifically allowing the school districts to make compliance with the student code of conduct a provision of the students continued enrollment.

Sen. Zaffirini filed this legislation last session (SB 1445), but interference from the TEA prevented it from getting a hearing.

Being able to move bullies, or their victims, to a new district is a valuable tool - one we need. But the loophole created by the TEA's irresponsible rule removes accountability from the system. SB 66 marks a return to common sense.

Friday, November 26, 2010

We ♥ Legislative Brackets

Except for under very limited circumstances the Texas State Constitution does not allow the State Legislature to write laws that only apply to certain counties. Texans, in general, value local control and the framers of the state constitution wanted to keep lawmakers in Austin from meddling in local affairs too much.

Of course the constituents of those lawmakers still expect them to help out with local issues. So what's a lawmaker to do? They could work to pass laws that would address the local issue but would apply to the whole state, but the other state lawmakers may not want to subject their constituents to rules designed for another part of the state. It takes a majority of both houses to pass a law - so the author of a law designed to address a local issue must find a way to write it so that it will not affect anyone else's constituents.

The solution is a "bracket". A bracket is a way of describing the counties to which a law applies. Lawmakers can't write a law that says "this law only applies to county X" but they can write a law that only applies to a county that has certain characteristics.

By creating very narrow requirements a law can be written so that it only applies to one county.

In order to comply with the State Constitution the bracket must be written so that a county can grow out of or into, so you often see population being used in brackets. Other characteristics - such as containing a facility licensed for a space port, or being licensed for a low-level nuclear waste facility - also get used from time to time. Since a license can be obtained or revoked it fits the "grow out of or into" criteria.

See if you can figure out which counties are described by these brackets, taken from bills filed for the 82nd legislature.

SB 105: applies only to "a county that is located wholly or partly above a hydrocarbon-producing geological formation that underlies all or part of two counties: (1) that are adjacent to one another; and (2) each of which has a population of more than 1.4 million."

HB 54 applies only "In a county located on the Texas-Mexico border that has a population of 500,000 or more and is adjacent to two or more counties each of which has a population of 50,000 or more"

HB 107 applies only to "a county: (1) with a population of less than 185,000; and in which two or more municipalities with a population of more than 65,000 are wholly located."

State elected officials tend to give each other a great deal of freedom to deal with local issues. Most of the time if a lawmaker can bracket their legislation in such a way that it only affects their own constituents other officials will not object (not all of the time, of course). It's important, when you see a bracket, to ask yourself why the author wants the law to apply so narrowly. Sometimes brackets can be used to further political vendettas by overriding the decisions of county commissioners or city councils.

If nothing else attempting to decipher a bracket can be a fun education in the geography of Texas.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Walle's HB 195 Would Weaken Current Anti-Bullying Laws

Rep. Armando Walle (D-Harris County) has filed HB 195 which would prevent school administrators from expelling students or placing them in alternative education programs unless the behavior they are being punished for is both serious and persistent.

Current Law (the Safe Schools sub-chapter of the Texas Education Code) requires school districts to create student codes of conduct and permits schools to discipline students who violate those codes. It allows school administrators to expel or place in an alternative education program students who violate the code in either a serious or persistent manner.

HB 195 goes through the existing law and changes all instances of "serious or persistent" to "serious and persistent". Under the proposed changes school administrators would not be able to remove students from school who committed only one serious violation of the code of conduct, or who committed multiple minor violations.

What makes this proposed change particularly bizarre is that the current law is permissive. It says that school administrators "may" expel or place in alternative education programs students who violate the code of conduct. This allows for administrative discretion and ensures an individual response to individual student's behavior.

This bill is unnecessary, irresponsible and would weaken one of the few tools administrators currently have to fight bullying.

Trans Pioneer Phyllis Frye Becomes Texas' First Trans Judge

Phyllis Randolph Frye, longtime legal advocate for the transgender community, was sworn in this morning as the state's first transgender judge. Frye was appointed by Houston Mayor Annise Parker as an Associate Municipal Judge. The city council unanimously approved her appointment, along with a couple dozen other appointments, with little fanfare and no dissent.

The significance of the moment was not lost on Mayor Parker who fought back tears as she welcomed the appointees to the council dais. Council member Sue Lovell who, along with Parker and Frye, fought for years as a citizen to improve the lives of queer Houstonians, beamed as she spoke of how far the three of them have come. Several council members specifically thanked Frye for her willingness to serve.

It was only 30 years ago that Frye risked arrest every time she entered City Hall. At that time the City of Houston and most American cities had ordinances criminalizing cross dressing. Frye defied the law to fight for it's repeal, which finally happened in 1980.

Frye is only the third transgender judge in the country. The other two both serve in California.

Frye is nationally recognized as an expert on the legal issues facing transgender Americans. Her law firm is currently representing Nikki Araguz in the suit brought by Mrs. Araguz's late husband's ex-wife in Wharton County. The ex-wife is attempting to void the Araguz's marriage (so that she may inherit the estate of her ex-husband). The suit centers on the fact that Mrs. Araguz was originally legally recognized as male by the state of Texas and could have national ramifications for the transgender community.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Anti-Bullying Bill Most Likely to be THE Anti-Bullying Bill

Rep. Mark Strama (D-Travis County) filed HB 224 last Tuesday (the second day of filing for the session). HB 224 is substantially similar to the anti bullying bill he filed last session (HB 1323). (Read Legislative Queery's day by day account of that bill's history HERE.)

The bill is a fairly comprehensive approach to fighting bullying. It requires all school districts to create a training program for staff, volunteers who work with students, students and parents designed to teach them to prevent, identify and respond to bullying. It also would allow school administrators to transfer bullies to a different class or campus than their victims if the victims parents or guardians request it (under current law only the victim may be transferred) and creates a uniform definition of bullying in the education code, adding cyberbullying. HB 224 would allow school administrators to address cyberbullying that takes place off campus if the electronic communication is received on campus or at a school event or if it substantially disrupts school operations. The bill also includes a requirement that schools report statistics on bullying to the state.

I really like this bill with one - very notable - exception... the reporting requirement. Schools would be required to report bullying based on actual or perceived race, ethnicity, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin or disability. They would not be required to report bullying on the basis of gender identity or expression (GI&E).

Beyond throwing the transgender community under the bus (which is bad enough), this omission creates a glaring loophole that prevents this legislation from being as useful as it could be for Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual students. Most of the time when a queer kid is bullied it is not because of who they are attracted to, but because their attackers feel that the victim is not behaving in a gender appropriate way. "Butch" girls and "sissy" boys bear the brunt of the bullies rage, that's not about sexual orientation - that's about gender expression.

Without the inclusion of GI&E in the reporting requirement many school administrators will not report harassment that that does not specifically include a reference to the victims sexual orientation. This will create a loophole where, for instance, bullying a male student for being a "fag" gets the bully in trouble, but bullying them for being a "sissy" doesn't. Bullies are smarter than many people give them credit. They will find this loophole and exploit it.

HB 224 is likely to be the anti-bullying "water bearer" this session. Most, if not all, of the bills designed to address bullying will be referred to the Public Education committee. It is probable that the chairperson for the committee will schedule all of them for public hearing at the same time. This is done for practical reasons. It allows the committee to hear from a number of experts and citizens all at once and to consider the different solutions being offered in direct comparison to each other.

After the hearing one of the Public Education committee members will likely offer a "committee substitute". This is a way of amending the bill in committee by completely replacing it with a new bill on the same topic. The committee substitute will incorporate the preferred solutions offered by the different bills the committee considered in the hearing, creating a kind of super-bill.

Because Strama has a history of carrying this sort of legislation and has been very public in his support for it his bill is likely to be the one that is amended by committee substitution becoming the only anti-bullying bill that makes it out of committee, but with elements of other bills attached. That makes it very important to pay attention to H.B. 224.

It also makes it important for H.B. 224 to have a number of co-authors. Co-authorship is a way for a house member to put their name on another member's bill. It allows them to show their support even before the bill gets to the floor of the house and everybody has a chance to vote on it. Last session this bill had 19 House members who were willing to put their names on it. Including 1 Republican.

Strama will need to talk to his fellow members to get their support. But it is also important that they hear from their constituents. If you feel that HB 224 is a good idea please consider calling your State Representative and asking them to become a co-author. If you do not know who your state representative is you can find out at http://www.house.state.tx.us/members/find-your-representative/

SB 205 - Require Schools to Create Anti-Bullying Policies

SB 205 by Sen. John Whitmire would require all public schools in Texas to adopt a comprehensive anti-bullying policy. The bill is exhaustive in the detail it prescribes for the policy, but does allow each school district to tailor its policy to the specifics of its students.

The bill lays out 13 things that each district's policy must address, the policy must:

  • prohibit bullying, cyberbullying, harassment, and intimidation
  • describe the behavior expected from students
  • lay out the consequences of bullying - specifically allowing counseling or referral to anti-bullying services
  • include a procedure for reporting bullying, including anonymous reporting
  • encourage students and employees to report bullying
  • layout a procedure for investigating bullying
  • describe how a school district will respond to confirmed bullying
  • prohibit retaliation against people who report bullying
  • have a rule against intimation of witnesses and victims of bullying to prevent reporting
  • describe how a school district will respond to retaliation for reporting or intimation of witnesses or victims
  • specify how the policy will be publicized
  • specify that publicization of the policy must state that it applies both on campus and at off campus school sponsored events
  • identify which school officials are responsible for implementing the policy
I like this bill. However, it doesn't go nearly as far as SB 245 by Davis (which also requires schools to adopt anti-bullying policies). Davis' bill includes a host of other anti-bullying solutions, like a reporting requirement and permitting schools to transfer bullies to other classes or campuses (currently only the victim can be transferred), but the level of detail in Whitmire's policy requirement will make it difficult for recalcitrant districts to wiggle out of the requirement.

The best solution would be for Whitmire's policy requirement to be amended onto Davis' bill. Most of the time each half of the legislature (House and Senate) only sends one bill on a topic to the other for consideration. Since these two bills were introduced in the Senate it would be best if they were combined in the Senate. Senators Davis and Whitmire will need to work together to create the best synthesis of the two.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Veasey Refiles Hate Crime Study Bill

HB 172 by Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Tarrant County) would require the state to conduct a study on how the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act is being used.

The James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act allows for increased sentences for crimes committed because of the victims real or perceived "race, color, disability, religion, national origin or ancestry, age, gender, or sexual preference".

Over 1,800 potential hate crimes have been reported to the Department of Public Safety since the Texas hate crimes statute went into effect in 2001. Only 12 have been prosecuted as hate crimes according to Equality Texas.

There are different ideas about why the Hate Crimes law is not being used. One excuse often given by District Attorneys for not attaching the Hate Crimes enhancement is that crimes like assault already carry a maximum penalty of life in prison. Attaching the Hate Crimes charge would not increase the maximum possible sentence and would create more work for the DA, since they would have to prove the motivation for the crime.

Another theory about why the Hate Crimes enhancement is not being used is that prosecutors are not properly educated about how it works and are reticent to prosecute what they do not understand.

The hope is that a study of the effectiveness of the law would help lawmakers better understand its faults and that legislation could then be passed that would amend the law to make it more usable.

Veasey filed this same bill last session (HB 616). That bill made it through subcommittee and committee hearings but ran out of time and never received a vote of the full house. HB 172 was filed on Monday, the first day to file bills. I'm very happy to see Veasey file this so early, it shows that he is serious about it. The lower bill number will mean that the bill is referred to committee earlier in the session and will have more time to work through the legislative process.

The next step for Veasey is going to be convincing a State Senator to file a companion bill. Bills must be passed by both the House and Senate before going to the governor to sign. Bills originating in the house bills are "read" on the house floor and then referred to a committee. The committee then holds public hearings on the bill. If the committee likes the bill and votes "yea" on it it's then referred to the "Calendars" committee which places it on the schedule for the whole house to consider. When its scheduled spot on the calendar comes up the bill is then "read" a second time and the whole house has an opportunity to debate it and then vote on whether it should become law. The bill is then "read" a third time (usually the day after the 2nd reading) and must be voted on again.

After passing on third reading the bill then goes to the Senate and starts the process again (1st reading, referred to committee, public hearing, voted out of committee, calendars, second reading, third reading). Then, if the Senate amended the bill so that it is different from the House version 5 members of the House and 5 members of the Senate get appointed to meet in a "conference committee" which hashes out a compromise between the two versions. The conference committee's version of the bill must then go back to both the House and the Senate and be approved by majority vote. Only then can the bill go to the Governor to be signed into law.

(The process for Senate bills works in the same way, only starting with the Senate and going to the House.)

But wait! There is a short cut! If a Senator introduces the same bill in the Senate as a House member introduces in the House then they can both work their way through the system at the same time. Then, if the House bill passes on third reading before the Senate bill does the House bill can simply take the place of the Senate bill at whatever stage of the process it's in.

(So if, when the House bill passes on third reading, the Senate version has already been put on the schedule by calendars the House version can skip first reading and committee hearings in the Senate and just take the place of the Senate version on the schedule).

Most bills that eventually become law are introduced in both a House and Senate version. If Veasey is serious about the study taking place he needs to start talking to State Senators about carrying a Senate version.

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To read a detailed, day by day account of one bills journey through the legislative process read Anti-Bullying Legislation in Texas

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

HB 208: The First Explicity Pro-LGBT Bill of the session

Rep. Roberto Alonzo filed HB 208 on Monday, the first day of filing. HB 208 amends the list of characteristics which insurance companies may not consider when offering policies to add sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

Alonzo represents district 104 in southwest Dallas, which includes the Bishop Arts district, an up and coming "gayborhood". He has a large number of vocal queer constituents and I'm happy to see him file this bill.

I was also happy to see him file it last session. With 125 bills authored or co-authored last year Alonzo never seemed to get around to fighting for this bill, or offering it as an amendment to other legislation.

Neither the version of this Alonzo filed last session, nor the Senate companion filed by Rodney Ellis got a hearing. Here's hoping they will make this legislation a higher priority this year.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

They're Wearing the Same Legislation, How Embarrassing

Yesterday Rep. Patricia Harless (R-Harris County) filed legislation that is almost an exact copy of the voter ID bill Rep. Riddle so notoriously camped out for two days to file first thing on that morning.

HB 112 varies from HB 16 by only a few words. Both bills list a court ordered sex change as an identifying document. I'm tempted to take my cue from Rep. Harless and just copy/paste what I wrote about the Riddle bill here, but instead here's the LINK.

The reason something like this can happen is that most legislators do not write their own legislation. "Legislative Council" is a team of lawyers who work for the Texas Legislature and write most of the bills filed. You can go to www.legis.state.tx.us to look up any legislation (I always try to link to that site when writing about legislation, so following the link is also an option). When you view at the text of the bill look to the upper left corner. If you see a series of letters and numbers that starts with 82R and ends with three letters a dash and a letter that means that the bill was written by Legislative Council.

The three letters are the initials of the drafter. So looking at HB 112 and HB 16 we can tell that they were drafted by the same person - "JRJ" (which is not surprising since the lawyers who work for Legislative Council tend to specialize). Legislative Council lawyers are not allowed to tell lawmakers about the bills they are writing for other lawmakers so JRJ would not have been able to let Riddle or Harless know they wanted to file the same bill. It would seem that JRJ got almost identical instructions from two Representatives and drafted almost identical bills.

This is also the real reason that Rep. Riddle camped out to file her bills first. While it's true that a lower bill number makes a bill more likely to pass the difference between 16 and 112 is nominal when there are over 5000 bills filed. The real reason to be first in line is so the press will talk about you, and not the person 96 bills behind you who filed the same legislation.

Recap of the First Day of Filing

Yesterday was the first day to file bills in the Texas legislature. These bills represent the highest legislative priorities for the officials who filed them. There were 156 bills and 1 concurrent resolution filed in the Senate and 198 bills filed in the House. I haven't yet read through all of the legislation but here are some highlights from today:

SB 42 - allow victims of cyber-bullying to be transferred to other classes or campuses
HB 16 - voter ID bill - bad for Texas, good for Trans community
HB 24 - allow cyber-bullies in alternative school
HB 130 - create a statewide bullying hotline
HB 169 - allow schools to force bullies into JROTC programs
HB170 - create a 300 foot safe zone around school campuses

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Most legislation gets passed by being amended onto other bills, so it's important to look out for legislation that is on similar topics. Here are some bills that were filed that have the potential to be improved by adding queer friendly amendments.

SB 29 - would allow grad students at state schools to be eligible for health benefits. Currently state schools are prohibited from offering health benefits to the domestic partners of staff. This bill could be an opportunity for that legislation.

SCR 1 - teabagger nonsense about states rights. (SCR stands for Senate Concurant Resolution, in this case it won't accomplish anything or change any laws if passed, it's just an opportunity to pontificate) It goes on - at length - about the 2nd, 9th and 10th amendment. There is an opportunity, if this bill makes it to the floor, for someone to attempt to amend a reminder of the 16th amendment's guarantee of equal protection under the law, specifically as it should apply to marriage equality and employment protections.

HB 22 - would require public schools to report how many non-citizen students they have. This is another one of the Debbie Riddle anti-immigrant bills. What's interesting is that it says that schools should report this information in a way that would not discriminate based on "race, color, disability, sex, religion, age, or national origin". There is an opportunity to add to this list "Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity an Expression. The more times this enumerated list appears in the code the better.

HB 82 - revises the way that the state informs 18 year old men that they are required to register for selective service. The precise wording of the notice could be amended to also notify people of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.
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Another interesting bill that some people may not recognize will benefit the queer community.

HB 38 - stiffens penalties for graffiti on certain structures - including community centers that provide medical, social, or educational programs. This would include most LGBT community centers and may be helpful in countering the hate graffiti that they often have to contend with.
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There are many bills that still need to be read - we are seeking additional contributors to help us work through them please e-mail [email protected] to volunteer.

Monday, November 8, 2010

First Senate Anti-Bullying Bill of the Session

SB 42 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini would expand to include bullying by electronic means the portion of the Texas Education Code that allows the victim of bullying to be transferred to another class or school.

This is a common sense approach, but one that does not go nearly far enough. Texas desperately needs to give school administrators to tools to transfer bullies. Under the current law an administrator can only transfer the victim, which can cut them off from any faculty or social support they have. Although not the intent, transferring the victim can feel like a punishment and can worsen self esteem issues that bullying victims often face.

It's a good bill, but I wish it went further.

Is 1-800-Bullying Taken?

HB 130 by Rep. Carol Alvarado would create a statewide hotline and website to allow students to report bullying if the bullying takes place on school campus or at school events. Reports of bullying would be forwarded to the students school principal, or if the bully is not a student to the local police.

Makes sense to me. This bill would allow students to report instances of bullying without having to face their teachers and faculty. I am concerned, however, that the bill does not create a requirement for school administrators to follow through on the reports and that it only applies to bullying on campus or at school events.

Cyber-bullying in particular is committed off campus most of the time. It's the internet age, we must give school administrators modern tools to address modern problems. Any legislation that does not permit administrators to address off-campus bullying will fail to protect Texas school children.

HB 170: the 300 Foot Bully Leash

HB 170 by Rep. Richard Raymond would allow school administrators to place students who engage in verbal, written or physical behavior that is designed to distress another student, is distressing to another student, or would be distressing to most people, into an alternative school if the behavior took place on school property, within 300 feet of school property, on a school bus, at a school bus stop, or at a school-sponsored event.

This is such a basic, simple, obvious response to bullying it is shocking that it is not already an option.

The only thing in this bill that is likely to draw opposition is the 300 foot provision. The ACLU of Texas testified against anti-bullying legislation last year because of their concern that allowing school administrators to address off-campus bullying would impinge on the the free speech rights of bullies. It will be interesting to see if the paltry 300 foot "safe" zone this bill creates will raise their ire or not.

This bill should already be law. If it, or some version of it, does not pass the members of the 82nd Texas legislature have failed the people of Texas.

Rep. Raymond's Solution to Bullies - Give Them Guns

Rep. Richard Raymond (D - Webb County) has a 'unique' solution to the problem of bullying - he would like to give school administrators to power to force students to enroll in Junior ROTC programs. (ROTC stands for "Reserved Officers Training Corps" - it's a paramilitary program designed to recruit officers for the U.S. military)

HB 169 would allow students who violate a schools student code of conduct (which is designed to counter bullying) to be forcibly enrolled in the school's JROTC program.

It's kind of an interesting idea - my personal misgivings about the military aside - the discipline and rigor of a JROTC would seem a good response to the issue of bullying. The problem is that JROTC programs are subject to the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" provisions of the uniform code of military justice. So rather than teach bullies who target queer kids that their intolerance is unacceptable this bill would enroll them in a program that re-enforces the idea that LGBT people are not as deserving of respect and dignity as other people.

What's more, queer kids who violate a school's student code of conduct would not be able to participate in a JROTC program and so would be subject to more severe punishments like suspensions and alternative school.

This solution to bullying is poorly thought out at best. It's been introduced in previous sessions and never seems to go anywhere. Let's hope forced military service continues to be off the table as a punishment option.

Guillen Files First Anti-Bullying Legislation of the Session.

Rep. Ryan Guillen (D-Starr, Duval, Zapata, and southern Webb counties) has filed the first anti-bullying legislation of the session.

HB 24 would allow schools to place students who engage in electronic harassment in alternative school if the communication was sent from school grounds or the communication was received on equipment that is school property.

The bill includes as electronic harassment making obscene proposals; threatening to harm the recipient of the communication, their family or their property; and repeatedly contacting the recipient when they do not wish to be contacted.

It's a step in the right direction, but is very narrow in its scope. The kind of electronic harassment it covers is already illegal (Class B misdemeanor), but as I previously wrote such crimes are rarely prosecuted, so giving school administrators another way to deal with the issue is a good idea.

More concerning is that the bill limits the type of harassment it covers to on-campus activity or communication received on school property. It's very hard to tell exactly where someone was when they made a Facebook post - or posted to their Tumblr - so how are administrators going to prove that the communication was sent from school grounds? (maybe we are supposed to hope that foursquare will develop an app for that).

Rep. Guillen has probably tried to make this so narrow in scope to avoid some of the opposition that Rep. Strama faced to his anti-bullying legislation last session, most vocally from the ACLU of Texas who were concerned that allowing school administrators to address off-campus bullying would violate the free speech of the bullies.

I worry that in trying to so narrowly focus the legislation he has created a useless tool, but I applaud his efforts and sincerely hope that some version of this legislation will pass this session.

Debbie Riddle - Trans Advocate?

Today was the first day for filing legislation in the Texas legislature - 64 days until the start of the 82nd session.

Rumor is arch-conservative Rep. Debbie Riddle of Harris County camped out in front of the filing office so she could be first in line. Her camp-out was successful and her block of 6 anti-immigrant bills will be some of the first out of the gate when the legislature convenes.

HB 16, the first of these*, is a voter ID bill - one of the favorite rallying calls for the anti-immigrant crowd. Under current law voters can present either their voter registration card or state issued ID at the poll to prove their identity. Many anti-immigrant activist (including Riddle) are convinced that undocumented immigrants are forging voter registration cards to vote illegally (despite a study by the republican state Attorney General Greg Abbot that could not find a single instance of voter fraud at in-person voting locations). The anti-immigrant activists want to require a state-issued voter ID be presented in order to vote.

The populations least likely to have a state issued photo ID are low-income and predominately African-American or Hispanic: groups that are more likely to vote for Democratic candidates. So it's no surprise that Republicans love this idea. Attempts to get similar legislation to pass last year caused the legislative session to grind to a halt.

Hidden in HB 16 is an uncharacteristically decent bit of legislation from Rep. Riddle - who is perhaps best known for her fear of terrorist babies and calling children's health care programs a plot from the "depths of hell".

HB 16 would create a two tier system for voter identification. Voters would either have to present a photo ID, or preset two forms of non-photo ID. With-in the delineated list of acceptable forms of non-photo ID is this:
"court records of the person's adoption, name change, or sex change;" (emphasis added)
Currently Texas law only recognizes a court issued sex change in one other area, in the family code where a court record of sex change is listed as an identifying document for applying for a marriage license. In fact the list of identifying documents in HB 16 is almost identical to the list currently in the family code. I suspect that the drafter of this bill simply copied the list over, probably without realizing its significance.

The ability of Texas courts to issue a legal sex change is at the core of the Nikki Araguz case currently being fought in Warton County (Mrs. Araguz's firefighter husband was killed in the line of duty - his ex-wife is suing Mrs. Araguz for the widow's benifits claiming their marriage was invalid because Mrs. Araguz was originally legally recognized as male by the State of Texas before receiving a court ordered change of sex).

This is a vitally important issue for the Transgender community in Texas. The ability to be legally recognized as their gender of identity is crucial to obtaining employment, housing and navigating the legal system. An additional recognition of the ability of courts to issue that legal document would benefit the community tremendously.

There will likely be several versions of voter ID legislation filed this session. It is probable that some elements of each will be included in the final version of the bill - which will likely be carried by a major player in the Republican Party. Riddle is a little too extreme for the Republican leadership, it seems unlikely to me that she would carry the final version.

The question now is - how long before Riddle discovers what she, almost certainly accidentally, filed; at what point will she or someone else try to remove it from the bill and will anyone have to guts to try to stop them?

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*bills are numbered in the order they are filed except for the first 15 bills which are reserved for the budget and the speakers priorities - so HB 16 is the first bill filled.