Monday, May 9, 2011

Day 119: RIP Bills, We Hardly Knew Ye

Today is the 119th day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. The House reconvenes at 10 am, the Senate at 11 am.

The deadline for House bills to be voted out of committee is midnight tonight. Any bill that hasn't received a committee vote by then is officially dead, including:
  • HB 130 by Carol Alvarado (D - Houston), which would create a statewide anti-bullying hotline.
  • HB 170 by Richard Pena Raymond (D - Laredo) which would create a 300 foot anti-bullying "safe zone" around schools.
  • HB 172 by Mark Veasey (D - Fort Worth) which would conduct a study on the effectiveness of the Texas Hate Crimes Statute
  • HB 208 by Roberto Alonzo (D - Dallas) which would prohibit insurance discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.
  • HB 224 by Mark Strama (D - Austin), a comprehensive anti-bullying bill, major elements of HB 224 are included in HB 1942, the compromise anti-bullying "super" bill that passed the House last week.
  • HB 604 by Jessica Farrar (D - Houston) and HB 2156 by Garnet Coleman (D - Houston) which would repeal the unconstitutional prohibition against "homosexual conduct."
  • HB 665 by Mike Villareal (D - San Antonio) which would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.
  • HB 944 by Dawnna Dukes (D - Austin), which would require School Health Advisory Councils to make recommendations on school district's anti-bullying curriculum (HB 944's Senate Companion SB 736 has made it through the Senate and is now waiting for consideration, so the concept's alive even if the bill isn't).
  • HB 1909 by Coleman, the "Juliet and Juliet" bill, currently there is a protection against the charge of "indecency with a child" if the people involved are of the opposite sex, with-in three years of each others age and the conduct is consensual. HB 1909 would equalize that protection to include same-sex couples.
  • HB 2227 by Coleman which would add "gender identity and expression" to the Texas' hate crimes statute.
Fortunately, with the death of the good comes the death of the bad:
  • HB 2638 by Warren Chisum (R - Pampa) which would expand the powers of the Attorney General to interfere in same-sex divorce cases.
  • HB 3098 by Lois Kolkhorst (R - Brenham) which would effectively ban opposite-sex marriage for people who have had their legally recognized sex changed.
Committee's may still vote on these bills before midnight tonight, but the next hurdle is on Thursday at midnight, the deadline for House bills to receive the first of two required votes by the whole House. There are literally hundreds of bills in line, waiting for their House vote, so even if any of these bills were voted out today it is unlikely they would make it to the floor on time.

Two bills important to the queer community squeaked out of committee last week:
  • HB 1386 by Garnett Coleman which would create a state-wide system for preventing youth suicide
  • HB 910 by Senfronia Thompson (D - Houston) which would allow people recognized by the state as unmarried to enter into gestational agreements with surrogate mothers.
Coleman's bill has little chance of making it to the floor before the Thursday deadline, but Thompson's bill may be able to use a "fast-track" method to pass. The House uses several different "calendars" to divide lists of bills up into groups of similar bills. One of these lists is the "Local and Consent Calendar," which is reserved for noncontroversial bills. In order to be placed on Local and Consent a bill can't have received a "no" votes in committee, which HB 910 did not. The House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence committee therefor decided to send it to Local and Consent. The deadline for Local and Consent bills to receive the first of their two required House floor votes is Friday, May 20th. What's more, Thompson is chairwoman of the committee that creates the Local and Consent Calendar, so she has the power to place HB 910 up at the top of this list.

The downside of Local and Consent is that debate on any bill on the calendar is limited to 10 minutes. If a House member, any member, asks questions about a bill on Local and Consent for more than 10 minutes then the bill is knocked off this fast-track calendar and must be sent back to pass the long way. That means that if any one member of the House decides they don't want HB 910 to pass they can kill it, making Local and Consent a bit of a gamble.

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