Monday, February 28, 2011

Enumerated List to be Dropped from Bully Bill Reporting Requirement

The Dallas Voice reports that the reporting requirement proposed by the "big" anti-bullying bills (HB 224, SB 245) will be amended so that the provision that school districts file annual reports on instances of bullying in enumerated categories will now only require a report - with the specifics to be determined by the Texas Education Commission (TEA).

(HB 224 has been filed in the House, SB 245 in the Senate. The bills are nearly identical. It is common practice to file the same legislation in both the House and the Senate. Doing so allows bills to be considered by both sides simultaneously which can speed the process of a bill becoming a law. Since the Texas Legislature only meets every other year for 140 days speed is crucial in passing any law.)

HB 224 (by Strama (D-Travis County)) currently would require districts to specify in their annual reports if instances of bullying were based on the real or perceived race, ethnicity, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin or disability of the victim. SB 245 (by Davis (D-Fort Worth)) requires the same enumerated report but adds gender identity and expression to the list. (Strama filed this same bill last session, also without gender identity and expression, but added it to the list of attributes in committee).

In addition to the reporting requirements both bills would require school staff, administrators, students and volunteers to attend training on how to identity and respond to bullying, would allow bullies to be transferred to different classrooms or campuses than their victims (currently only the victim may be transferred) and would allow administrators to address cyber-bullying under limited conditions.

Neither bill currently contains a provision prohibiting schools from discriminating against teachers or students on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.


Lets face it, removing the enumerated list from the reporting requirement will make these good bills less good -- there is no getting around that. But (and it's an extremely ambivalent "but") the proposed change to these bills dramatically increases the chances of the legislature doing something to address the issue of bullying this session.

Let's, just for a second, pretend that instead of one bill in the House and one bill in the Senate that each did four things (training, transfers, cyber-bullying, reporting), we had four bills in the House and four bills in the Senate that each did one of those things. (Actually, bills that only tackle parts of this issue have been filed in both the House and Senate, such as Rep. Guillen's HB 24 which only addresses cyber-bullying and Sen. Whitmire's SB 205 which only covers the training requirement.) If 3 of those 4 bills (say... training, transfers and cyber-bullying) became law and the other one didn't it would be a major victory and would go a long way toward helping queer Texas school children. We would be upset the 4th one didn't pass, we would continue to fight for it, but getting 3 of the 4 through would be an accomplishment.

The situation at hand isn't even a case of a 3/4 victory since the reporting requirement will still be in the bill, albeit drastically and mournfully watered down. Plus, unlike a hypothetical situation where the reporting requirement was removed, we will not have to wait two years for the next legislative session to fight for an enumerated policy. By putting the decision of how exactly the reporting requirement will work on the TEA this bill would be granting the TEA what is called "rule-making authority".

Texas laws work on a three-tier system:
  • First and foremost is the state constitution; its authority supersedes any other state law (but must comply with federal law). In order for the constitution to be amended 2/3 of both the House and Senate must approve a proposed amendment to be placed on a statewide ballot and then a majority of voters must vote for it.
  • Next is statute and code, statute and code must comply with the state constitution (and federal law) but supersede all other state law. The Legislature may amend statute and code by a majority vote in both houses. The governor then has an opportunity to veto any proposed changes.
  • Finally, at the bottom of the totem pole, is rule. Rule is created by state agencies. In order to create rules the agency must be authorized to do so by statute or code. Rules must comply with the state constitution and statute and code (as well as federal law).
The law requires that, in creating rules, state agencies hold public hearings. If HB 224 or SB 245 becomes law the TEA could start that process as early as this summer. If that happens we will have an opportunity (and a responsibility) to attend those hearings, en masse, to demand that both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression be including on the required reports.

I suspect Equality Texas, which announced the proposed changes to the bills, is going to receive a lot of criticism about this. (Some of which is warranted, given that the bills are being weakened.) I hope, however, that people notice what didn't happen:

The two bills (HB 224 and SB 245) differed from each other by only 5 words - "and gender identity and expression". I spoke with a staffer in Strama's office a couple of months ago asking why Strama did not include those words in his bill this session (since he added them in committee last session). The staffer was a consummate professional, which means she would never make a statement about a bill that her boss hadn't already approved, but I got the distinct impression that Strama left those 5 words off because he thought his bill had a better chance without them.

Over and over again the queer community has seen the lobby organizations that claim to represent us all throw the transgender community under the bus when it became politically expedient. It would have been very easy for Equality Texas to have done the same in this situation. Instead, they worked with Sen. Davis to be sure she understood why her Senate companion needed to include those 5 words and they continued to work to educate Rep. Strama about why his bill needed to do the same.

In a way (a very strange, very conflicted way) I'm glad to see "sexual orientation" removed from HB 224. I don't want to fight for a bill unless I can fight alongside by trans brothers and sisters. Personally, if those 5 words aren't included I don't want the two words that protect me ("sexual orientation") included either.

HB 224 and SB 245 were never perfect, they're not even the best anti-bullying bills filed this session (see HB 1386). Removing the enumerated list from the reporting requirement takes these bills, which were always the middle ground, and makes them weaker. But... we are dealing with the lives of children here. If all that gets through this legislature (this very conservative, very Republican legislature) is a single section of these two bills we will have improved those lives.

It's not enough, it is so not enough, and we must fight for more... but right now, as you're reading this, there is a 14 year old queer kid who is contemplating suicide because his teachers don't know how to see the pain that he is in. If we can help that kid, and the thousands of others like him, have a school that is even a fraction more aware of his predicament we have to do it.

Day 49: Only One Week Left Till Lobby Day

Today is the 49th day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature, the House reconvenes at 10:30 am, the Senate at 1:30 pm.

Only one week to go until Equality Texas Lobby Day! Lobby day is an opportunity for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people and those who care about them to come to Austin and speak, face to face, with state lawmakers about the decisions that affect their lives. Participants are asked to register on-line at www.eqtxlobbyday.org. Lobby Day is free, but pre-registration is requested so that plans can be made for meals, which are provided.

Lobby Day starts with breakfast and check-in at First United Methodist Church of Austin, located adjacent to the State Capitol. A press conference follows at 9:00 am on the capitol’s front steps. Participants will then receive a brief training on what to expect when meeting with elected officials before dividing up into groups of four or five and heading to the capitol. Each group will meet with several capitol offices and have an opportunity meet, face to face, with decision makers. After a break for lunch at noon the groups will continue with their meetings before returning to First United Methodist Church for a debrief and to write thank you letters to the offices they visited at three.

It seems shocking, but there are members of the Texas Legislature who honestly believe that they do not have LGBT constituents. It is absolutely vital that we talk to them, often and en masse. Lobby Day provides a prime opportunity to do that.

The Texas Legislature meets on odd numbered years during the spring. Equality Texas has sponsored Lobby Day every legislative session since 2003. Last session, in 2009, over 400 people participated. As of this morning there are 239 people registered. We can do better than that!

Friday, February 25, 2011

A Texas Proposal

...with apologies to Jonathan Swift...

The average Texan, upon learning of our impending 13.5 billion annual dollar budget shortfall, is greatly distressed, even more so when they learn that education spending is almost certain to bear the brunt of the budget drafter's scissors. Politicians like State Representatives Leo Berman and Debbie Riddle have suggested, and rightly so, that the majority of our budgetary woes are due to the influx of illegal aliens who, shortly upon arrival in our fair state, begin immediately to produce so called "anchor babies" in the hope that their offspring's birth-right citizenship will guarantee their ability to remain in the United States.

It is frightening to behold the neighborhoods and towns these people have colonized: whole streets where nary a person speaks English, cities overrun with the children of illegals, classrooms where "Juans" outnumber "Johns". An acquaintance of mine, a man of unimpeachable character from our state's panhandle, tells me that in some of that region's towns taco stands outnumber burger joints five to one. Indeed, he recently reported to me that the city of Pampa's last Mom and Pop diner had been recently converted into a taqueria!

I have long struggled to find a solution to this problem, but have thus far found no lasting answer. It was, however, recently brought to my attention by a learned friend that the issue of a burgeoning young underclass is not new, nor is it unique to Texas. This friend pointed out a most insightful treatise (the title escapes me) which offered a solution to Ireland's overwhelming baby boom amongst its poor in the 18th century. The answer presented in this tract was so innovative, so unabashedly efficient that I am certain it could be applied to our state's current predicament. The solution is simply to convert the glut of anchor babies from annoying drain on our state's economy to vital foodstuff and linchpin of the state's economic engine.

A side benefit of this approach is that it is certain to reduce the demand for abortions. Current efforts to shame promiscuous women out of terminating their pregnancy by forcing them to listen to the beating heart of their fetus and view it's sonogram in full blazing technicolor are well intentioned, but certainly shame pales as a motivating force when compared with the universal motivator of monetary gain. By allowing those who reside legally in the state to "opt in" to the program we can provide financial incentive for reluctant mothers to carry their child to term. What women of easy virtue would pay to have a doctor murder her child while still in the womb if she knew that in a few short months that same child, now happy and born healthy and alive, could be traded to the butcher for a hefty sum?

Texas is estimated to have about 25 million residents, of which a reputable blogger and patriot I have great reason to believe (as his site was returned on the first page of Google results) estimates 1.5 million are here illegally. The United States Census Bureau believes that 8.6% of Texans are under the age of 5. It seems quite likely that illegals under 5 -- with their community's penchant for over-breeding -- occur at a much higher percentage. I estimate it to be approximately 10%, making a total of 150,000 young illegal immigrants, or children of illegal immigrants, which would be suitable for meat stock. If the average weight of this population is placed at 31 pounds (the average weight of an American three year old) and one assumes that half of that weight is bone or organ meat that would be unsuitable for consumption Texas is currently in possession of approximately 2 million pounds of readily available meat. My local grocery store sells a pound of beef for $4.49. Assuming the retail price of illegal immigrant meat to be similar to that of beef would put the potential retail value of the meat at almost 90 million dollars. Which, once sold, would generate over three quarters of a million dollars in direct sales tax revenue!

Some might argue that the potential retail value of illegal meat would certainly be greater than grocery store beef as the meat could be marketed as "free range" and "locally produced". These people are clearly not familiar with the culture of Texas. Texans are not, generally speaking, the type to have their retail habits easily swayed by such liberal marketing gimmicks as "free range" and "locally produced".

Of course three quarters of a million dollars would scarcely dent our current 13.5 billion dollar budgetary crisis. The added benefit of reduced spending on the children of illegals, however, would certainly make up a portion of the difference. How often have the good, honest taxpayers of Texas balked at what must surely be the profligate spending of our state leaders on such luxuries as childhood vaccination and nutrition programs? As the average Texan sees few, if any, benefits in exchange for their tax burden the assumption that those funds are being absorbed by the illegal population is forgone. Based solely on my observations is seems safe to assume that by consuming the primary consumers of these services we may see a statewide savings of at least one billion dollars.

What is more, within twelve years my proposal would, if adopted, completely eliminate illegals and their offspring from Texas public schools. Turning again to the good and unimpeachable blogger of earlier record I find that the annual cost of educating illegals and their children is four billion dollars. Some may find it tempting to prematurely convert those school-age illegals over the age of five to consumable goods. At first I considered this option, but I am informed by a knowledgeable friend from the lesser American state of Wisconsin (which has already begun its own experiments in forfeiting the lives of children to compensate for budgetary difficulties) that children above the age of five become extremely difficult to process by modern meat packing equipment as they are quite squirmy and have by that age acquired a sufficient vocabulary of curse words to distress those noble workers who have been called upon to process them.

In order to realize the public education savings more expediently I instead propose that those illegals and children of illegals aged 5 to 18 years be employed at the numerous new meat processing facilities that this endeavor will necessitate. Some may balk at presenting such an employment opportunity to these surreptitious residents when so many true Americans are suffering the pains of financial hardship. To address these concerns I would create two important conditions of such employment. First that residence in a factory-adjacent dormitory be mandatory for all those so employed, with each dormitory required to include kitchens and dining halls to provide sustenance for residents and sufficient security to ensure the safety of its tenants with all the costs to be offset through automatic deductions from the compensation of residents. Secondly that such facilities be restricted to the State's many "sanctuary cities" so that any burden of lessened job opportunity be placed only on those Texans who have expressed a willingness to be put in harm's way for the sake of illegals.

The added benefit of such housing, if co-ed, is that the illegals, with their innate talent for venery, inherent fertileness and Catholic objections to prophylactics will undoubtedly breed copiously in their barracks. The issue of such adding to the state's food stock substantially. What is more, the franchise tax levied against the operations of such facilities would certainly yield, at a minimum, an additional one billion dollars per annum in state revenue. Proving, once again, that the miracle of the franchise tax, which only eight years ago lifted our state finances from the pit of insolvency, that fiscal marvel which our great governor, like Prometheus of old, brought down from on high to set aflame the economic engine of our state, can and will solve any number of appropriational conundrums.

Only now, however do we come to the true genius of my proposal, which makes it so well suited to the specifics of our fair state: Texas' unique culinary heritage. Texas has been blessed to inherit the rich traditions of Spanish, French, Czech, Cajun and Caribbean cooking. The addition of this new meat will undoubtedly spur a renaissance of epicurean delights informed by that unique Texas flavor. Imagine, if you will, succulent illegal alien baby back ribs, or the sweat tang of Texas barbecue paired with the earthly gaminess of a Mexican 2 year old. Not only will the already strong Texas tourism industry benefit from this innovation (which will surely draw large crowds to sample our bounty), but our state's many fine culinary schools are certain to become hard-sought centers for matriculation. Between revenue from hotel occupancy taxes, sales taxes on fine dining experiences and the additional tuition revenue at state schools I am confident that the remaining 7.5 billion needed to close our budget gap can be raised.

I anticipate that those lily-livered amongst us will no doubt argue that my humble proposal is too drastic, that simple steps like providing better access to family planning services, or fostering a more economically and socially stable environment for our neighbors to the south would more easily address the issue at hand. I am even told that there are those in our fine state who argue that it is the lack of access to legal relief from exploitation that depresses illegal workers wages and therefore the economy and that there is no innate reason why our state cannot accommodate these interlopers. I will hear no such nonsense. These theories, having been proposed and summarily dismissed by our state's leaders, are clearly bunkum -- unworthy of consideration or even acknowledgment.

I am certain that all reasonable Texans will find my proposal a quite pleasing and efficient solution to our pressing problem. Certainly no other endeavor thus far presented so neatly addresses both the crisis of culture that illegal immigration poses while closing our looming budget shortfall. I anticipate that it will, quite soon, be put into practice by the highest authorities of our state.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Hate Crime Study Bill to Recieve Public Hearing

HB 172 by Rep. Marc Veasey is scheduled for public hearing on Tuesday, March 1st at 10:30 am (or whenever the House is finished with its business for the day, which will likely be a little later than 10:30). The bill 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 victim's 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. Fewer than a dozen have been prosecuted as hate crimes according to Equality Texas.

HB 172 will be heard in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. Veasey filed this bill last session as well (HB 616) and the committee approved it with 8 members for, 1 against and two absent. Unfortunately only two of last session's members are back this session: Chairman Pete Gallego and Wayne Christian. While Gallego is supportive of this bill Christian opposed the creation of a Hate Crimes Statute in the first place so his opposition to anything that might make the Hate Crime statute more effective is virtually guaranteed.

The committee has 7 new members this session: Vice-Chair Hartnett, Aliseda, Burkett, Carter, Davis, Rodriguez and Zedler. Hartnett and Davis both supported the creation of the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crime Act. They both have excellent records of supporting the queer community and it's very likely that both of them will support HB 172. Rodriquez wasn't a member of the House when the Hate Crimes Statute was created, but he has an excellent voting record and will very likely support Veasey's idea. Zedler is an old-school conservative, the kind of person who thinks that non-discrimination policies must in some way work to his disadvantage. I would be shocked if he voted for this bill.

The other three new members, Aliseda, Burkett and Carter, are freshmen, swept in with the teabagger hysteria of the fall. Burkett is a teabagger's teabagger, she was one of only 15 house members to vote against Joe Straus for Speaker (the Teabaggers had encouraged house members to elect a "good Christian" speaker, as opposed to Straus, who is Jewish). The chance of Burkett (or Christian or Zedler, who also voted against Straus) supporting HB 172 is very slim. Aliseda and Carter's lack of experience (or stunning display of antisemitism) makes their vote hard to predict.

In a November 14th Fort Worth Star Telegram article Veasey was not optimistic about HB 172's chances:
"I'm going to try it, but quite frankly it's not going anywhere," Veasey said. "A lot of these folks that got elected were elected on opposition to the president and probably feel that being for anything pro-civil rights would hurt them in their political careers."
Looking at the make-up of this committee it seems more than likely his prophesy will come true.

------------------------------

If you would like to contact the members of the Criminal Jurisprudence committee and ask for their support the contact information is below.

Pete Gallego -Chair
(512) 463-0566
(512) 236-9408 Fax
[email protected]

Will Hartnett - Vice Chair
(512) 463-0576
(512) 463-7827 Fax
[email protected]

Jose Aliseda
(512) 463-0645
(512) 463-0559 FAX
[email protected]

Cindy Burkett
(512) 463-0464
(512) 463-9295 Fax
[email protected]

Stefani Carter
(512) 463-0454
(512) 463-1121 Fax
[email protected]

Wayne Christian
(877) 839-2709
(512) 463-5896 Fax
[email protected]

Yvonne Davis
(512) 463-0598
(512) 463-2297 Fax
[email protected]

Eddie Rodriguez
(512) 463-0674
(512) 463-0314 Fax
[email protected]

Bill Zedler
(512) 463-0374
(512) 463-0364 Fax
[email protected]

Bullying Hotline Bill to be Heard in House Human Services Committee

HB 130 by Rep. Carol Alvarado is scheduled for a public hearing in the House Human Services Committee on Tuesday, March 1 at 2:00 pm (or later if the House isn't finished with it's business by then (which is unlikely)). The bill would create a statewide hot-line 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.

Alvarado's bill is interesting because it doesn't actually say anything specifically about protecting LGBT students. It simply creates a statewide bullying hot-line, which will allow the state to compile statistics on bullying and also create oversight for local police and school administrators who may not wish to enforce the existent rules and laws against bullying.

Alvarado's first challenge will be convincing a relatively homophobic committee (even the Democratic Chair (Raymond) has supported a ban on gay foster parents and is decidedly against marriage equality) that HB 130 is not a "gay bill" - but rather a bill that would help all Texas students.

The second challenge is going to convincing "small government" Republicans on the committee like Morrison, Hughes Hunter, Laubenberg and Taylor that the State has any business meddling in the local affairs of a school district (that meddlesome state, just because they provide the funding and set the curriculum they think they can tell school districts not to let kids be mercilessly tortured). It's a difficult case to make in a legislative environment that seems intent on dismantling the government, rather than actually governing.

Alvarado's idea is so simple, so basic, that it's hard to find any fault with it. I suspect, however, that the committee will politely listen to all the testimony and then quietly sit on the bill, never bringing it up for a vote.

Public Education Committee to Hear Bullying Bills

Two bills concerning bullying, HB24 and HB224, have been scheduled for public hearing on Tuesday, March 1 in the House Public Education Committee:

HB 24 by Rep. Ryan Guillen 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. Current law does not recognize cyber-bullying and gives administrators no ability to address cyber-bullying that takes place off-campus (Legislative Queery's initial post on HB 24 is HERE)

HB 224 by Rep. Mark Strama 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 and allows school administrators to transfer bullies to a different class or campus than their victims (under current law only the victim may be transferred). It creates a uniform definition of bullying in the education code, adding cyber-bullying and allows school administrators to address cyber-bullying 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. (Legislative Queery's initial post on HB 224 is HERE)

Chairman Rob Eissler scheduled both bills for the committee's regular hearing at 2:00 pm on Tuesday (or later if the House doesn't get out in time, which seems unlikely). Because of the similarities between the two bills it is likely that they will be discussed (or "laid out") at the same time. I do not expect the committee to eventually take a vote on both bills. Instead they will probably take any parts of Guillen's bill that they like better than Strama's and attach it to HB 224.

HB 224 was filed last session as HB 1323, which was also referred to the Public Education Committee and was eventually voted out (for Legislative Queery's somewhat exhaustive exploration of that bill's journey go HERE). HB 1323 was scheduled for public hearing on the 77th day of the 81st session, the fact that HB 224 is scheduled for public hearing on the 50th day gives me great hope. It shows that Chairman Eissler (who chaired the committee last session as well) is giving this issue more attention.

The committee will hear several bills during the hearing. The order the bills are taken in is completely at the chairman's discretion. Typically committee chairs will hear bills that have strong public interest first, so that people who have traveled to Austin to testify can get on their way, but there is no predicting the actual order.

Any member of the public may testify at a public hearing. All they have to do is go to the hearing room (E2.036), fill out a form and hand the form into one of the committee's staff, who will be sitting at the front of the room. People testifying before the committee are required to indicate which bills they are testifying about (so if someone wants to testify about both HB 24 and HB 224 they need to fill out two forms) and to say if they are testifying "For", "Against" or "On" the bill. (Generally people do not testify "On" the bill unless they are state employees who are their to provide factual or background information to the committee.) It is also possible to fill out the form as "present - not testifying" which creates a public record of the person's position without having to speak before the committee. Chairman Eissler has indicated that each person's testimony will be limited to three minutes.

Last session only two people testified against Strama's bill: a representative of the ACLU who believed that “shielding children from getting snubbed or being called names undermines children's ability to develop the coping mechanisms to be able to fend for themselves” and a representative from the radical right-wing "Freemarket Association" who did not testify. Conservative radio and "news" stations have begun to portray anti-bullying efforts as an insidious plot to push the "gay agenda" (whatever that means). I would not be surprised if there were more people testifying against the bill this session.

(By the way, the ACLU of Texas' phone number is (512) 478-7300 and their e-mail is [email protected] -- I, for one, will be contacting them urging them not to testify in support of bullying as a vital educational experience this session.)

Seven of last session's committee members are back this time around: Eissler, Hochberg, Allen, Aycock, Dutton, Shelton and Webber. Eissler is about as conservative as they come, but his scheduling of the bill for hearing, plus his history of scheduling it in the past means that he could possibly vote in favor. Hochberg, Allen and Dutton have good histories of supporting the LGBT community and will likely support HB 224. Two sessions ago Aycock voted against an amendment by Rep. Garnet Coleman that would have required reporting very similar to HB 224's - I worry that that part of the bill will be a sticking point for him. Shelton and Webber are sophomore members of the House and don't have a strong voting record to base predictions on. Webber prides himself on his tech savvy and reliance on hard facts and statistics (he is known for fact-checking his fellow committee members during hearings using his laptop). He may be convinced to support HB 224 if given sufficient empirical data that the approach it proposes would achieve the desired effect (or if he is informed that in a 2010 Equality Texas poll 79.2% of Texas voters said that they support uniform anti-bullying legislation to prohibit harassment in schools, including the children of gay/lesbian parents or teens who are gay).

Four of the committee's members are new: Guillen, Huberty, Smith and Strama. It's a pretty safe bet that Strama and Guillen support their own bills. Huberty is a freshman, recently swept into office on the teabagger wave, it's pretty much impossible to predict his actions but I'm guessing he will look to the senior republican members of the committee (Eissler and Aycock) for direction. If Todd Smith votes for this bill I'll eat my hat. Expect him to offer helpful suggestions to parents who testify to the committee about encouraging their children not to stand out so much, and thus avoiding making themselves targets.

To pass out of committee anti-bullying legislation needs the support of the chairman and at least 6 "Yes" votes. I count: 5 definite Yes's, 1 maybe, 2 probably not's, 1 hell no, and 2 who the hell knows. Both of these bills have a very good chance of making it out of committee in some form, but the public will need to strongly express their support to the committee members to push anti-bullying legislation through committee and on to the House floor.

------------------------------

If you support anti-bullying legislation I encourage you to contact the members of the committee and ask for their support. The e-mail addresses and phone numbers for all the members and select staffers are below. There is also a copy-and-paste list of all the e-mail addresses at the bottom if you only have time to send one e-mail.

House Committee on Education Members

Rob Eissler, (Chair)
512-463-0797 Fax: 512-463-0898
[email protected]

Scott Hochberg, (Vice Chair)
512-463-0492 Fax: 512-463-5896
[email protected]

Alma Allen
512-463-07445 Fax: 512-463-0761
[email protected]

Jimmie Don Aycock
512-463-0684 Fax: 512-463-8987
[email protected]

Harold Dutton, Jr
512-463-0510 Fax: 512-463-8333
[email protected]

Representative Ryan Guillen
512-463-0416 Fax: 512-463-1012
[email protected]

Dan Huberty
512-463-0520 Fax: 512-463-1606
[email protected]

Mark Shelton
512-463-0608 Fax: 512-463-8342
[email protected]

Todd Smith
512-463-0522 Fax: 512-463-9529
[email protected]

Mark Strama
512-463-0821 Fax: 512-463-1199
[email protected]

Randy Weber
512-463-0707 Fax: 512-463-8717
[email protected]

In addition each of the Representatives has a staffer whose primary responsibility is handling education issues:

Jenna Watts - Rob Eissler, (Chair)
[email protected]

Becky Cohen - Scott Hochberg, (Vice Chair)
[email protected]

Brian Waldrup - Alma Allen
[email protected]

Belinda Pustka - Jimmie Don Aycock
[email protected]

Stephanie Russell - Harold Dutton, Jr.
[email protected]

Cory Howell or Katy Johnson - Representative Ryan Guillen
[email protected]
[email protected]

Maggie Irwin - Dan Huberty
[email protected]

Sierra Stephens - Mark Shelton
[email protected]

Trish Conradt - Todd Smith
[email protected]

Mary Throop - Mark Strama
[email protected]

Chara McMichael - Randy Weber
[email protected]

If you only have time to write one e-mail copy and paste the list below into the "to" field to reach all of the committee members and their education staffers.

[email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]

Here Come the Trans Bashing Bills

SB 723 by Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) would amend the list of acceptable identifying documents used to apply for a marriage license to exclude a court ordered "sex change".

The current list of acceptable documents was created in 2009 by HB 3666 by Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham). Rep. Kolkhorst also introduced the amendment which added court ordered "sex change" to the list. The amendment passed on a voice vote (meaning it was so uncontroversial that no-one wanted to bother counting votes) and the bill was placed on the Local and Consent Calendar, which is reserved for noncontroversial bills. Debate on bills on the Local and Consent Calendar is restricted to 10 minutes. This means that any House member who wanted to kill the bill just has to talk about it for 10 minutes and 1 sec. Considering how easy it would have been for someone to prevent this from becoming law it would have seemed to have been relatively non-controversial.

Apparently not. Williams, who voted for HB 3666 when it came through the Senate last session, wants to take out this provision. It seems that the case of Delgado v. Araguz, currently winding it's way through the courts in Wharton county got his attention. Nikki Araguz is the widow of firefighter Capt. Thomas Araguz, killed in the line of duty. Capt. Araguz's ex-wife, Heather Delgato, is suing to have his marriage to Mrs. Araguz declared void so that Delgato can receive his widows benefits. Delgato's case is based on Mrs. Araguz's original, California, birth certificate identifying her as "male", and the 1999 Texas court precedent of Littleton v. Prange. (Mrs. Araguz's birth certificate was corrected and now identifies her as female.)

Littleton v. Prange involved a trans woman, Christie Lee Littleton, who attempted to file a medical malpractice suite after the death of her husband. Mrs. Littleton was told she could not because she was “genetically male”, and her marriage was therefore invalid. The Texas Fourth Court of Appeals upheld that ruling, but it had to strain really hard to do so. In his opinion, Justice Hardberger flatly stated that he could find no case law or statute in Texas, or for that matter anywhere in the U.S., on which to base the ruling. Instead he relied on English Case Law: Corbett v. Corbett (1970).

Since the ruling was in the fourth court of appeals it only applies as binding precedent in the fourth court's district (the San Antonio area), but other Texas courts can, and have, used Littleton v. Prange to guide them in their decisions.

Of course all that was before HB 3666. Mrs Araguz's lawyers are arguing that if the law allows a court ordered "change of sex" to be used as an identifying document for obtaining a marriage certificate, then clearly two people (so long as one is a man and one is a woman (of course)) can be legally married regardless of what their original birth certificates said. Since the law trumps case precedence Littleton v. Prange would seem to no longer apply. The case is yet to be decided.

Clearly, this lapse into decency chafes the Honorable Sen. Williams. One has to wonder though if he's considered the corollary to outlawing marriage between a man and a woman if one of them happens to have been assigned a different gender at birth, which is it legalizes same-sex marriage so long as one of the partners happened to have been assigned a different gender at birth.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

HJR 102 - Repeal the Constitutional Ban on Marriage Equality

House Joint Resolution 102 by Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) would repeal Section 32 Article I of the Texas State Constitution, which reads:
"Marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman. This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage."
Constitutional amendments in Texas must first be proposed by the legislature and then approved by a majority of Texas voters. The amendment that added Section 32 narrowly passed out of the legislature in the spring of 2005, then was approved that fall by an overwhelming 76% of Texas voters.

To be sure, public opinion has shifted since then. In a 2010 Equality Texas poll 63.1% of Texans said they supported allowing gay and lesbian couples to get a civil union.

A "joint resolution" is the mechanism by which the legislature proposes constitutional amendments. House joint resolutions are introduced in the House, Senate joint resolutions are introduced in the Senate, but in order for the proposed amendment to go before voters two thirds of both the House and Senate must approve it.

First, let's talk about what HJR 102 wouldn't do: if passed by the legislature and approved by voters HJR 102 would not permit same sex marriage in Texas. There is a provision in Family Code Section 6.204 which reads:
"A marriage between persons of the same sex or a civil union is contrary to the public policy of this state and is void in this state."
So even if the constitutional prohibition out of the way the statutory prohibition remains and marriage equality is still just a dream in Texas.

What HJR 102 would do is to put the relationships of same-sex couples up for a vote once again, first by the legislature, then by Texas voters. Frankly, it's insulting. I firmly believe that the 14th amendment guarantee of equal protection already makes marriage equality a guaranteed right, the courts just haven't figured that out - yet. Civil rights should never be subject to public vote and my civil right to marry whomever I choose is best recognized by the courts, not subject to the whims of public opinion.

What's more, repealing the constitutional provision against marriage equality by public vote reinforces the notion that it was appropriate to ban the recognition of an inherent right by public referendum in the first place - it's not - and it never will be.

I appreciate what Rep. Coleman is trying to do, and I recognize that by filing this legislation he has stuck his neck out for the community, and for that he has my thanks, but (as much as it pains me to say it) this is the wrong way to go about getting recognition for same-sex relationships.

Day 44: Between the Conception and the Creation Falls the Education

Today is the 44th day of the regular session of the 82nd Texas Legislature. Both the House and Senate will reconvene at 10 am.

The House Public Health Committee meets today at 8 am for it's "organizational meeting". Chairwoman Kolkhorst will discuss her priorities for the session and get a feel for where other committee members want to go. HB 415 by Anchia (D-Dallas) has been referred to the public health committee.

Under Texas law adoptive parents may petition the court to have a new birth certificate that reflects the adoptive parents names. This is standard practice and is done to make easier for those parents to prove their relationship to the child. Unfortunately the law specifically prohibits two men or two women from being listed as parents on a birth certificate (despite it being perfectly legal for two men or two women to adopt a child). HB 415 would fix this problem.

Anchia has filed this bill before and it's always received an emotional hearing in committee, but has never been voted out and on to the House floor. I'm hopeful that it may be better received in committee this session (read Legislative Queery's Day 38 post for more information).


Last night I sat on the Panel for 'Issues & Answers - Bullying' in Houston with Rep. Jessica Farrar and Houston Independent School District Trustee Juliet Stipeche. Farrar indicated that HB 1386 by Coleman (joint authored by Farrar) may be referred to the Public Health Committee as well. HB 1386 is similar to HB 224 by Strama (the big "Bully Bill") but far more comprehensive and inclusive, going well beyond just bullying issues in schools to require training on suicide prevention awareness for almost all state employees who interact with youth. The hope is that since HB 1386 deals with the broader issue of suicide that it will be considered a public health issue and not just a public education issue.

The Speakers office has broad latitude in referring bills, but Speaker Straus has a reputation for respecting members wishes so it's quite possible that HB 1386 will go to the Public Health Committee. If that happens we may see two committee hearings on a very similar topic in the next month or so. This is good. The 82nd Texas House is almost 2/3 freshmen and sophomores. Although bullying legislation has been filed ever session for over a decade many of the current members of the House may never have been in a hearing when a parent described the heartbreak of their child's experience, or a teacher talked about the frustration of not having the tools they needed to address the problem. There is value in Committee Hearings, even when bills never make it out of committee, because it educates members.

This is the challenge of changing the law: the slow, torturous process of educating lawmakers on experiences that they have never had. It's a slow process, two steps forward and one step back, but it's how our system works. Before this idea that being tormented by other students should not be a part of any student's reality takes root and is born full-fledged as common wisdom, amidst all the struggle and pain, the conjouling and convincing we must educate, we must tell our stories and insist on being heard.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Day 43: This is the Dead Bill, This is the Cactus Bill

Today is the 43rd day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. The House will reconvene at 10 am, the Senate at 11.

The House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence meets today at 10:30, but will not be considering either HB 604 (repeal of the offense of homosexual conduct) or HB 172 (study of the effectiveness of the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act). This is how bills die slow deaths - if hearings are delayed (either because the chair does not wish to schedule a hearing or the bills sponsor is not prepared for a hearing at the time or, simply, that all concerned place higher priority on other legislation) they can get so far behind in the process that they can never catch up. That's what happened to last sessions version of the hate crimes study bill, it passed committee, but did so late in the game and never made it to the House floor.

In 77 days all bills will be required to have had their "second reading" on the House floor (this is the first opportunity for the entire House to discuss and vote on a bill), if that hasn't happened they die. Between now and then both of these bills will have to have a public hearing, been voted on by committee, the committee report submitted to calendars (the calendars committees set the schedule for the House floor) and then put on a schedule for second reading. The clock is ticking.

Please call the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee and encourage Chairman Pete Gallego to set these two bills for public hearing at the committee's meeting next week. The number is (512)463-0768.


I'll be sitting on the panel tonight for "Issues & Answers - Bullying" cosponsored by the Harris County Democratic Party and Houston Stonewall Young Democrats, joining me will be Houston Independent School District Trustee Juliet Stipeche and, via skype, State Representative Jessica Farrar. The panel starts at 6:30 pm at the HCDP Headquarters at 1445 North Loop West, Suite 110 in Houston.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Day 42: 'Flurries' - But No Blizzard

Today is the 42nd day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. The Senate reconvenes at 11 am, the House at 1 pm.

The House is finally starting to get to work after waiting 30 days for committee assignments. With committees in place the speakers office is able to start referring bills. The Dallas Voice Instant Tea blog described this as a "flurry of activity', which is somewhat true, but not completely accurate. Bill referral is the only part of the process that is guaranteed; all bills get referred to committee. Bills are referred in the order they are filed (for the most part) - so it might look really good when HB 24, HB 130, HB 170, HB 172, HB 208, HB 224, HB 415 and HB 604 all move on the same week, but the truth is that was always going to happen.

For some of these bills referral to committee is the last movement they will make, since the committee chair is under no obligation to schedule them for a hearing. I will reserve my excitement for when these bills start getting scheduled for hearings.


In "how did I miss that" news: The Department of State Health Services' commissioner, Dr. David Lakey, has disbanded the Texas HIV Medication Advisory Committee. The Advisory Committee was made up of health service providers and people living with HIV/AIDS who provided input to the way the Department structured it's HIV medication programs. Commissioner Lakey testified before the House Appropriations committee on Friday that the elimination of the advisory committee was necessary for budgetary reasons. The Texas HIV/AIDS Coalition is encouraging people to contact the members of the Appropriations subcommittee on Human Services and ask them to "Tell Commissioner Lakey to reinstate the Texas HIV Medication Advisory Committee and work with community stake holders. People living with HIV/AIDS and community stake holders should not be shut out of the process!"

Representative John Zerwas (512) 463-0657
Representative Dawnna Dukes (512) 463-0506
Representative Susan King (512) 463-0718
Representative Craig Eiland (512) 463-0502
Representaive Warren Chisum (512) 463-0736
Representative Charles Schwertner (512) 463-0309


The big state legislature news story for the last week has, of course, been in Wisconsin where that state's newly elected governor is attempting to prevent collective bargaining by some public employee unions - most notably teachers. Texas is one of only 5 states that currently doesn't allow for collective bargaining by teachers unions. Interestingly enough those five states rank 50th (South Carolina), 49th (North Carolina), 48th (Georgia) 47th (Texas) and 44th (Virginia) in average state SAT/ACT scores. I'm sure that's just a coincidence. If you are in Austin and would like to show solidarity with the public employees of Wisconsin there is a candlelight vigil tonight at 6:45 starting at the AFL-CIO headquarters (1106 Lavaca St.) and marching to the capitol.

Friday, February 18, 2011

HB 1386: The Best Solution to Teen Suicide (That Will Never Happen)

HB 1386 filed by Rep. Garnet Coleman (D - Houston) is a compassionate, well thought out, reasonable approach to the issue of teen suicide, (a problem that has recently captured the nation's attention in the wake of a string of suicides by LGBT young people, including Asher Brown of Houston) and it doesn't have a chance in hell of becoming law.

The bill, co-authored by Rep. Jessica Farrar (D - Houston) would create a statewide training program to help, not only teachers, but also police, nurses, social workers, counselors and school administrators and staff recognize children at risk of suicide and give them tools to provide assistance. HB 1386 also contains a non-discrimination policy for Texas public schools that includes both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression with a provision requiring schools to regularly train their employees on how the non-discrimination policy applies.

Similar to Rep. Strama's HB 224 and Sen. Davis' SB 245, HB 1386 would require schools to compile annual reports of instances of bullying e and would allow bullies to be transferred to different campuses or classrooms (currently the victim may be transferred, but the bully may not). HB 1386 would also allow administrators to address instances of cyber-bullying, but unlike HB 224 and SB 245 it does not contain a provision specifically allowing administrators to address off-campus cyber-bullying.

The single biggest difference between HB 1386 and every other bullying bill filed this session is the non-discrimination policy. HB 1386 has the audacity to suggest that it is wrong for queer kids to be discriminated against in public schools -- that's what's going to keep it from becoming law. The far right in this state has a hard time accepting that teenagers have any sort of sexual orientation, let alone that that orientation might, even on occasion, be towards people of the same sex. Just look at our paleolithic sex education programs that refuse to teach kids how their bodies work or the actual mechanics of how someone might get pregnant. Conservatives don't want to believe that there are queer kids, so it's nigh on impossible for them to believe that those kids need to be protected.

If, perchance, a right winger is able to wrap their head around the concept of queer kids the next argument thrown up is than enumerated non-discrimination policies (policies that list sets of attributes that are protected) amount to a kind of "reverse discrimination", that protecting something like race or gender identity means that white, cisgender kids aren't being protected. This argument is, perhaps, the single most revealing statement ever made by the right: the assumption that white, male, straight, christian, native-born American, cisgender people do not have race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, nation of origin or gender identity. Under this assumption white, male, straight, christian, native-born American, cisgender people are "normal" and anyone who doesn't posses those exact attributes is a deviation from the norm who wants special deference for being different.

Despite it's chances of being passed approaching zero I'm extremely happy to see HB 1386 filed. By presenting an alternative approach to addressing the issues of teen suicide and bullying Reps. Coleman and Farrar have made the Strama and Davis bills appear to be the middle ground that they are. This will hopefully give political cover to moderate Republicans who might otherwise be reluctant to support HB 224 and SB 245.

It's too bad that the bolder, more comprehensive approach seems so distasteful to the right, because, if passed. HB 1386 would save lives, maybe even lives dear to those right wingers.

-------------
UPDATE: Coleman has refiled HB 1386 as HB 2343 - the language is identical with the exception that the bill has been named "Asher's Law" in honor of Asher Brown, the 13 year old Houston area boy who committed suicide after enduring prolonged vicious bullying at school.

HB 1492: Allow Top Tier Universities to Offer Competitive Benefits

HB 1492 by Rep. Naishtat (D-Austin) would allow the University of Texas and Texas A&M systems to extend insurance coverage to "qualified individuals". The universities would then be allowed to determine who "qualified individuals" are. The hope of Rep. Naishtat is that, if passed, this bill would allow UT and A&M to provide domestic partner benefits as well as allow employees to add other family members to their insurance plans. Currently only legally recognized spouses and dependent children are allowed to be on the University employee's insurance plans.

The bill specifically provides that the universities would not be required to pay the additional cost of adding "qualified individuals". Both university systems are currently required to pay one half of the cost of adding legally recognized spouses of staff to the insurance plan. So even if HB 1492 passed and the schools decided to allow the domestic partners of staff members to be "qualified individuals" queer people would still be paying double what their straight counter parts pay to add their spouses to their insurance plans .

Rep. Naishtat filed this legislation last session, in the hearing held by the House Insurance Committee he argued that the state's top tier university systems needed broader discretion in the insurance benefits they offered in order to attract top staff. Since institutions like Yale and Harvard offer similar benefits, Texas universities should too to remain competitive.

Unfortunately his arguments were not persuasive and the bill died in committee. The chairman of the House Insurance Committee, this session and last, is inveterate homophone John Smithee. It seems unlikely that this common sense legislation has any hope of passing so long as he remains chair.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Day 38: Heather Has Two Mommies, But Only One Is Legally Recognized

Today is the 38th day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. The House reconvenes at 10 am, the Senate at 11.

Yesterday Rep. Garnet Coleman (D - Houston) introduced HB 1386 which would create a truly visionary program to counter youth suicide that includes a non-discrimination policy for Texas public school students that includes sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. I'll write more about HB 1386 later, but wanted to take this opportunity to thank Rep. Coleman for his thoughtful legislation.

HB 415 by Rep. Anchia (D - Dallas) was referred to the House Committee on Public Health yesterday. HB 415 would allow same-sex parents to be given birth certificates for their children which accurately reflect both parents. Current law prohibits Texas' birth certificates from reflecting two men or two women as parents, straight people who adopt are regularly given amended birth certificates that reflect both parents names.

The composition of the House public health committee this session is interesting. An 11 member committee, it has 4 Democratic members and 7 Republicans and is chaired by Rep. Louis Kolkhorst (R - Austin, Grimes, Walker, Washington counties). Anchia filed this bill last session as well, during that hearing Kolkhorst was visibly moved by parents' stories of how not having an accurate birth certificate has made it difficult for them to get emergent care for their children, secure visas for travel and be recognized as a guardian by their children's schools. If Kolkhorst can be convinced to allow the the committee to vote on HB 415 there is a chance that this bill might make it to the House floor for a vote.

The 4 Democratic members of the committee include 3 of the staunchest allies of the queer community: Naishtat, Coleman, Gonzales. The other one, Alvarado, doesn't have a voting record on LGBT issues because she is a sophomore member and there wasn't a record vote last session, but she has made multiple public statements in support of the community. Those four votes are pretty secure, since the committee has 11 members the bill needs 6 supporters to make it out of committee and on to the House floor. If chairwoman Kolkhorst can be persuaded to support HB 415 that makes 5 yea votes. So where might the 6th one come from?

Of the 7 republican members only one is a member of the notorious "Gang of 37": Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R - Colin, Rockwall counties) - House members with perfect records of voting against the LGBT community - people who never miss an opportunity to exact their bigotry on the queer populous. The other 7, including chairwoman Kolkhorst have, at least once, been persuaded to vote in the best interest of the community or are freshmen or sophomores who have yet to establish a record. The relatively moderate make up gives me hope that one of those members might become the necessary 6th vote, but which one?

One of the more hopeful freshmen members is Rep. Sarah Davis (R - Houston). Davis actively sought and enthusiastically received the endorsement of the Houston chapter of Log Cabin Republicans during her campaign. The Harris county Republican party did very little to support her campaign, so she's not as beholden to the party machine as some other members, and she has made public statements that she would support the LGBT community (so long as that support doesn't include what she considers the "expansion of government"). This bill would seem a key opportunity for her to prove her statements. She could easily become the necessary 6th vote, particurally if sufficient public pressure is brought to bear.

Rep. Davis' Austin office can be reached at (512) 463-0389 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (512) 463-0389 end_of_the_skype_highlighting.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Day 37: (Straight) Texas on the Brink

Today is the 37th day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. The House will reconvene at 10 am, the Senate at 11. The Texas Motor Transportation Association will be providing lunch on the South Lawn at noon.

The House State Affairs committee will meet at 2 pm for their "organizational meeting" - chairman Cook will lay out his priorities for the committee and may assign subcommittees. HB 665, which would prohibit employment discrimination, including discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression, has not yet been referred to committee but is expected to wind up in State Affairs. It will be interesting to see the tenor of the committee today and how we can expect them to work together in the future. You can watch the meeting live HERE.

The Legislative Study Group (LSG) released its report "Texas on the Brink" yesterday. The LSG is a left-leaning think tank whose members include some of the best allies of the queer community in the Texas legislature, so I was disappointed when their big report failed to mention the existence of LGBT Texans. The LSG doesn't actually do any of the primary research for the report, but instead compiles statistics from a number of sources on how Texas is doing in categories like employment, public health and education. Here are some suggestions for information they could have considered including:

  • At least 1 out of every 16 Texas school students was physically assaulted at school during the previous year because someone thought they were “gay.” (source Equality Texas)
  • Texas ranks 2nd among the 50 states for the number of same sex couples (source Williams Institute)
  • Texas ranks 6th among the 50 states for the number of hate crimes committed due to real or percieved sexual orientation. (source FBI)
  • The median income of men in same-sex couples in Texas is $32,000, or 9% less than that of married men ($35,000). (source Williams Institute)
The information is out there. The LSG simply didn't think to look for it when compiling their report, which underscores the importance of LGBT people talking to elected officials and policy makers. Well-meaning straight people are wonderful allies to have, but their minds are not going to turn to queer issues unless we direct them to. They will not, and can not, see the world through the eyes of a queer person. We must continuously remind them that we exist, that we have lives that are full and worthwhile and that, as representatives of the people, they have a responsibility to acknowledge our lives in their decision making.

One way that you can get involved, and encourage lawmakers to acknowledge our existence, is to participate in Equality Texas' Lobby Day on March 7th. Lobby Day starts on Monday morning with a complimentary breakfast, followed by a press conference at 9 am on the capitol steps. Participants will then attend a workshop on how to effectively talk to representatives and then, in groups of four to five, talk face to face with the people elected to represent us. Each group will have at least one person who has experience with lobbying, so no one will be on their own during lobby day. Lunch is provided.

Please register on-line for Equality Texas Lobby Day at http://tinyurl.com/eqtxlobbyday2011 (Lobby Day is free, but preregistration is requested so that plans can be made to accommodate all participants).

Monday, February 14, 2011

Day 35: Happy Valentine's Day

Today is the 35th day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. The House will reconvene at 1:00 pm, the Senate at 1:30.

Today is also Valentine's Day. Expect several Representatives and Senators to give very sweet statements recognizing their spouses in the chamber galleries. Also expect those statements to be made without any acknowledgment of the irony that they are members of a body that stripped queer Texans of the right to have their relationships legally recognized.

After last week's appointments of House Committees there will be a number of "organizational" meetings this week. In what will likely be the shortest meeting each committee has this session, the chairperson will lay out their priorities and may also appoint subcommittees. I don't expect any hearings on any of the bills we are watching until next week at the earliest.

If you happen to be at the capitol today you might want to check out a show by the Harris County mounted patrol on the capitol grounds at 11:30 am. Don't worry, it's the Harris County mounted patrol, not the Houston Police Department's, which greatly reduces the risk of queer people getting trampled.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Day 31: And They're Off... Sort Of

Today is the 31st day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. Both the House and Senate have adjourned until next Monday.

Yesterday's announcement of House committee assignments means that things are really about to get moving in Austin. The Speakers office referred the first 106 House Bills to committee, so the first of the first of the anti-bullying bills (HB 24) is now in committee. I don't expect it to be set for a hearing until the other three House bully bills (HB 130, HB 170 & HB 224) are also referred, that should happen on Monday or Tuesday.

Committee meeting schedules are set by the committee coordinator, under the direction of the House Administration committee. Since all House members serve on at least two committees the coordinator is charged with creating a schedule which minimizes the number of members whose committees meet at the same time. The committee schedule has not yet been announced but should be available with-in the next few days.

Committees are required to give 5 days notice before holding a public hearing on bills so that people who want to testify on the bill can have time to make arrangements to get to Austin. That means that we are very unlikely to have any public hearings next week and it will likely be day 42, at the earliest, before any of the bills we are tracking have a public hearing.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

House Committee Assignments

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus has finally announced the committee assignments for the 82nd Texas House. As I predicted last month the partisan break down of the committee chairs roughly reflects the distribution of party control in the House with 11 Democratic chairs and 25 Republicans (not including the 4 select and joint committee chairs, all republicans).

House committees that queer Texans will want to watch very carefully:

Public Education - will get the anti-bullying bills. Chairman Rob Eissler scheduled the hearing for HB 1323 (last sessions anti-bullying bill) very late last session, but he did schedule a hearing and the committee eventually voted to send the bill to the floor for a vote of the whole House. Unfortunately, time ran out last session (more info on HB 1323). Rep. Strama, whose HB 224 is expected to be the water bearer for anti-bullying bills, is on the committee this session.

Public Health - will get HB 405, which would allow same-sex parents to get accurate birth certificates for their children. Chairwoman Lois Kolkhorst was visibly moved by testimony last session on this bill, lets hope that causes her to schedule it for an early hearing.

Criminal Jurisprudence - will get HB 604, the repeal of Texas's unconstitutional sodomy law and HB 172, the study of the effectiveness of the Texas Hate Crimes Act. Chairman Gallego has a solid record of voting in the best interest of queer Texans, but repealing the unconstitutional sodomy law, however common-sense, is going to a hard sell. Plus, with virulent homophobes Wayne Christian, Bill Zedler and Will Hartnett it seems unlikely that common sense will beat out bigotry. The Hate Crimes study has a better chance, it made it out of committee last session, but it's hard to predict what will happen this session.

Insurance - will get HB 208 prohibiting insurance companies from discriminating on the basis and sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. Chairman Smithee hasn't let this bill through in past sessions and I'd be shocked if he lets it through this session. Smithee takes every chance he can get to hurt queer Texans, he's not likely to pass this chance up either.

State Affairs - will get HB 665, which would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. This bill, or a version of it, has been filed every session for over a decade, and it never gets a hearing. While new Chairman Byron Cook is an immense improvement over old Chairman Burt Solomons it's unlikely that this bill will go anywhere.

Now that we have committees bills are going to start moving left and right. The 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature is finally getting going!

Day 30: The Governor's Earth Moving Equipment

Today is the 30th day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. The House reconvenes as 10:00 am, the Senate at 11:00 am.

Yesterday's "State of the State" address by Gov. Rick Perry was a pro forma "government is bad, regulation is bad, business is good" diatribe. If you can stomach reading the full text it is available HERE. In an irony no doubt lost on the man who has repeatedly tried to prevent queer people from talking about their relationships in public, Perry opened by thanking his wife Anita. He then went on to praise the Boy Scouts for making him who he is, so now we know who to blame.

Perry blamed the states 27 billion dollar budget crisis on everyone but the Republican controlled legislature who passes the budget, including: President Obama, Congressman Lloyd Doggett, the Environmental Protection Agency and illegal immigrants. All this while asking for more money for his personal "economic development" funds. State Rep. Jessica Farrar, president of the House Democratic Caucus, summed it up nicely "The first rule to being in a hole is stop digging. Perry traded his shovel for a backhoe,"

Still no movement on any of the bills we're watching. The Senate Education Committee (which has the Senate version of anti-bullying legislation) has not scheduled a hearing this week. The House still does not have committee assignments (no committee assignments = no committee hearings = no legislation) . A capitol staffer told me that the rumor mill has suggested that Speaker Joe Straus (who makes committee assignments) is waiting until the final report from the House Election Contest Select Committee to issue assignments.

The Select Committee was appointed to report on the contested election of Rep. Donna Howard (D-Travis County) in House District 48. Howard's opponent, Dan Neal, has been challenging her election (which was won by a narrow 16 votes), since November - charging that ballots where improperly counted. Howard has maintained her narrow lead after every recount. The report from the Select Committee is expected on Friday. If the rumors about the reason for Staus's tardy assignments are true, that means it may be next week before we have committee assignments.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Day 29: The State of the State is a State of Mind

Today is the 29th day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. The House will reconvene at 10:00 am before welcoming the Senate for a joint session in the House chambers at 10:30. At 11 am Governor Rick Perry will deliver his "State of the State" address to the joint session.

Perry will likely sing another 12 verses of his favorite Hymn: "Texas is Awesome, Texas is Perfect, What's That You Say About Massive Unemployment, Crumbling Infrastructure and Pitiful Education, I Can't Hear You LALALALALA". This despite a biting Los Angeles Times article that disproves the rosy picture of the economy Perry has been painting for years, the impending closure of Pre-K programs and the proposal that the Texas Penal system stop feeding its prisoners so much to save money.

Expect a few dropped in code words about "family values" and "crumbling morals". Perry's speech writers are too savvy to give him any overt gay bashing, but they know to keep the base happy by slipping in a few covert digs.

You can watch the speech live at http://www.gov.texas.gov/

Monday, February 7, 2011

Bipartisan Votes Key to LGBT Legislative Successes Part VI

In which, for a brief time, the House adopts a school discrimination reporting policy.

[Be sure to read parts I, II, III, IV & V]

Amendment 73 to HB 1 80th Session by Coleman
Yea (68D 8R)
Nay (1D 69D)
Absent (1D 2R)
Present, not voting (1R)

Every other year, when the legislature meets, the most pressing issue before them, indeed the only legislation they are constitutionally required to pass, is the budget. The Texas State budget is an enormous, unwieldy document. It lays out the funding for every state agency, sometimes in startling detail, and includes provisions requiring reporting for local agencies that receive state funds.

Because the budget is so far-reaching it is a prime target for amendment. In Texas, bill amendments must be "germane" to the topic of the bill they are amending, meaning they have to deal with the same topic. In the case of the budget anything dealing with funding, or with the reporting required of funded agencies, is germane.

In 2007, when the budget came to the House floor, Rep. Garnett Coleman (D-Houston) proposed an amendment that would have required public school districts, when filing reports with the state, to report incidents of alleged discrimination or harassment of staff or students based on real or perceived ethnicity, color, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, disability, religion, or national origin. Since the budget provides funds for schools to prepare their annual reports the amendment was germane since it provided a specific requirement of the report.

Let's be clear, the reporting requirement would not have prohibited discrimination or harassment, and it would not have required school administrators to take steps to prevent discrimination or harassment, it would have simply required them to report it.

The amendment passed narrowly, but with bi-partisan support, unfortunately it was later removed by the conference committee (when the House and Senate versions of a bill differ a "conference committee" is formed to hash out a compromise bill).

This amendment is significant because both HB 224 by Strama and SB 245 by Davis (The big anti-bullying bills) contain very similar reporting requirements (although Strama's leaves out gender identity and expression). The reporting requirement is expected to be the most contentious section of the legislation, for no other reason than it acknowledges the existence of queer people.

One hundred and two members of the 80th Texas House are still serving in the House. Forty-six of those (including six Republicans) supported this reporting requirement, fifty-five (including one Democrat (Rep. McClendon)) opposed it, and one (Speaker Craddick) voted "present-not voting" (the Speaker rarely votes while presiding, considering his voting record it seems safe to assume that Speaker Craddick would vote against a similar reporting requirement this time around). If we assume no one has changed their mind in the last four years (which is, perhaps, not a safe assumption) that means that current anti-bullying efforts will need to garner the support of at least twenty-nine of the freshman and sophomore representatives to pass.

This is one of the most exciting things about the 82nd Texas House; it's almost one third freshmen and sophomore representatives. Their lack of a record is frustrating to policy wonks like me (because it's hard to predict future behavior), but many of them lack a fully-formed opinion on some of the issues most important to LGBT Texans. We have the opportunity to educate them, but only if we take advantage of it.

Call your elected officials! Now, more than ever, it is vital that they hear from their LGBT and ally constituents. To find the contact info for your representative and senator's district offices go HERE. Put in your address and press enter, then scroll down the page until you see the listing for state senator and state representative.

Plus, clear your schedule now to attend Lobby Day at the Capitol, March 7th. Lobby Day is an opportunity for you to meet, face to face, with the people who make decisions that effect your life every day. Training is provided in the morning, then teams of 4-5 people are sent office to office. Each team has someone who has done this before, so you won't be alone. You can register on-line HERE (Lobby Day is free, but please preregister).

We have a narrow window to talk to these reps, before the voices of those who would deny our existence, deny our heritage and deny that our children are in danger step in. We must take advantage of that window now.

Up next: The House votes on whether to take a vote, then they vote, then they take a vote on whether they want to vote again.

Day 28: No House Committees, No Senate Eduction Committee Hearings

Today is the 28th day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas legislature. The House will reconvene at 1:00 pm, the Senate at 1:30 pm.

I keep worrying that House Committee assignments were made and that I missed it. The thought wakes me up at night. I have to get up and check, just to make sure. But no, with only 112 days left on the clock, still no House committee assignments.

The Senate, on the other hand, is moving at a mad clip, on every single issue except bullying. The Senate Education Committee (which is charged with holding public hearings on the various anti-bullying bills that have been filed) has not scheduled any hearing this week yet. I'm assuming Chairwoman Shapiro will get around to that, but the lack of focus is frustrating.

------------------------

Listen to "Queer Voices" KPFT 90.1 FM in Houston next Monday night at 9. I'll be on talking about the progress (or lack there of) in the Legislature and about Lobby Day on March 7. Live stream available at kpft.org

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Day 24: I Can Haz Committee Assignments?

Today is the 24th day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. The House reconvenes at 10:00 am, the Senate at 1:30 pm.

Still no House Committee assignments. The Speaker of the Texas House is responsible for appointing the members of House committees and their chairs. Committees hold public hearings on bills and make recommendations to the entire House regarding whether a bill is a good idea. Without committee assignments the House is extremely limited in the work it can do.

Speaker Straus is certainly taking his time. In the last 10 years the average day of committee assignments in the House was the 13th day of the session (with the longest time being the 16th day (81st regular session) and the shortest the 7th day (79th regular session). It is now the 24th day of session and still no assignments. I'm told that Straus is meeting with individual members about their preferences and that is what is causing the delay.

Until he finally makes up his mind the entire session remains in limbo.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Day 22: Senate Bills Start to Move

Today is the 22nd day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. The House reconvenes at 10 am, the Senate at 11.

The Senate began referring bills to committee yesterday, SB 42 (transfer of cyberbullies), SB 66 (transfer student loophole) and SB 205 (anti-bullying policy) have all been referred to the Committee on Education, which has its first hearing this morning, as has SB 245, the big anti-bullying bill sponsored by Sen. Davis.

The Senate Committee on Education will likely form a subcommittee to deal with these bills when it meets today. The subcommittee will then hold a public hearing and report its findings to the whole committee. With only 118 days left this session it's important that that happens as soon as possible. I expect the subcommittee to offer a substitute (a way of amending the bill by replacing it completely with a new bill) that incorporates ideas from some or all of the four Senate bills that have been filed on the subject.

We still do not have committee assignments in the House. Until that happens all of the House bills are in limbo waiting to be referred to committee.

It's pre-kindergarten day at the capitol! There are a number of events, including a model pre-K classroom in the basement (it's not as creepy as it sounds). Also, Texas CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) will be meeting with lawmakers today and a rally of people opposed to paddling children will be held this afternoon at 3 pm. With all the events centered around children's well-being it's a good day to call your elected officials and remind them about the importance of anti-bullying legislation. You can find the contact information for your representatives HERE.