Wednesday, March 30, 2011

ACTION ALERT: Call Members of the Senate Finance Committee

From the Texas HIV/AIDS Coalition:
ACTION ALERT! Tomorrow the Senate Finance Committee will consider funding the Texas HIV Medication Program.

We must let the committee members know that if they fail to fund the Texas HIV Medication Program people will not have access to the drugs that keep them alive.

We are asking you to make three phone calls to key Senators on the Senate Finance Committee.

The message is simple-

"I am asking you to fully fund the Texas HIV Medication Program. The lives of thousands of Texans depend on it."

Senator Steve Ogden 512.463.0105
Senator Juan Hinojosa 512.463.0120
Senator Jane Nelson 512.463.0112

We are asking you to make these calls now. The vote is scheduled to take place on Thursday morning.

In addition to your own action we are asking you to reach out to your networks: email lists, Facebook, Twitter, co-workers and friends. We have moved this issue through our efforts over the past 3 months and we can't afford not to weigh in before tomorrow's vote in Senate Finance.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Day 74: Punishing Bullies, Berman Learns the Word "Transgender" and the 2nd Annual Harvey Milk Conference

Today is the 74th day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. The House is adjourned until 1:00 pm on Monday, the Senate until 1:30.

HB 24 and HB 170 are both scheduled for public hearing in the House Public Education Committee on Tuesday, March 29th. Both bills deal with expanding the circumstances under which bullies may be place in alternative school. HB 24 expands the definition in the Education Code to include cyber-bullying if the communication is sent from school grounds or is received on equipment that is school property. HB 170 would create a 300 ft buffer zone around school grounds to allow school administrators to address bullying that takes place adjacent to the school.

Both are reasonable baby steps towards giving administrators more tools to address bullying after it happens, but neither bill includes an education requirement. By not requiring that schools educate students, staff and parents how to identify and prevent bullying the bills maintain the status quo of schools cleaning up after the fact, after the damage has been done. Additionally, by focusing on punishing students, instead of educating them, HB 24 and HB 170, while helpful, are unlikely to help educate children who are engaging in bullying behavior on how to be better members of society.

Never the less, they are steps in the right direction. If you would like to contact the members of the public education committee and ask them to support HB 24 and HB 170 the contact information for the committee is at the bottom of this post.

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

In case you missed it...

Rep. Leo Berman is one of the most conservative, and anti-equality, members of the Texas Legislature. This video, from KXAN, shows him debating Rep. Rafael Anchia (one of our staunchest allies) on a number of topics, including adoption by same-sex parents. Watch Anchia try to educate Berman about the word "transgender":

Session '11: Reps. Berman and Anchia: kxan.com

I haven't seen a clearer illustration of the challenges our community faces in the Texas Legislature in a long time.

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

The 2nd annual Harvey Milk conference will be May 21st in Austin. If you weren't able to make it last year you missed a great opportunity to meet queer activists of all political philosophies. A facebook page has been created with more details.

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

House Committee on Education Members

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you only have time to send one e-mail copy/paste this list of the committee members, their staffers and the committee clerk.

[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]


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

HB 944: Require School Health Advisory Councils to Address Bullying

HB 944 by Dawnna Dukes (D-Travis County) would require Local School Health Advisory Councils to annually issue a report containing recommendations on their school district's "policies, programs, and resources on dating violence, bullying, and sexual harassment". It would also allow school boards to appoint representatives from local domestic violence programs to their Advisory Council.

School Health Advisory Councils were created in 1995 as a way for parents and community members to provide input on school's physical education and health curriculum. The code requires that at least half the members of the council, including the chair, be parents and allows school boards to also appoint other community members, including students. Councils currently create annual reports with recommendations to the school board on how to improve the curriculum.

There is nothing in the current code that would preclude a counsel from making recommendations on its school's approach to dating violence, bullying and sexual harassment, nor is there anything currently stopping local school districts from appointing experts on domestic violence intervention to the council. So HB 944 does not dramatically change the current situation, nor would it require local school districts to do anything to address the torturous conditions that so many queer kids endure in public schools. At the same time, adding language specifically directing the counsels to address these important decisions is a step, all be it a baby step, in the right direction.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Day 71: Attack on Marriage, Bullies in Committee, Points of Order Explained

Today is the 71st day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. The House reconvenes at 10 am, the Senate at 11.

SB 723, by Tommy Williams (R- The Woodlands) will be heard in the Senate Jurisprudence Committee at 1:30 (or when the Senate gets out, if that's later). The bill would remove documentation of a court ordered "sex change" from the list of documents that can be used to prove identity when applying for a marriage license. (LQ's initial post on SB 723 HERE)

The family code's list of potential identifying documents is extremely long; everything from school records to prison ID cards. When the list was created last session the inclusion of court ordered "sex changes" was non-controversial, not even meriting debate. Attempting to remove it now is a simple act of spite and Williams' bill analysis makes it clear that his intention in filing this legislation is to outlaw marriage involving trans identified people in the State of Texas.

Please contact the members of the Senate Jurisprudence Committee and tell them to leave the law the way it is, vote NO on SB 723.

Chair Chris Harris 512-463-0109
Vice-Chair Jose Rodriguez 512-463-0129
John Carona 512-463-0116
Robert Duncan 512-463-0128
Mario Gallegos 512-463-0106
Joan Huffman 512-463-0117
Carlos Uresti 512-463-0119

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

As LQ mentioned yesterday the Senate Education Committee will hear public testimony on SB 42, SB 205 & SB 242 this morning at 8:30 am. The three bills all address the issue of bullying in public schools. 79.2% of Texas voters support legislation that protects school children from bullying (including LGBT school children) according to a 2010 poll by Equality Texas. It is important that every member of the Senate Education Committee hear from Texans that bullying effects all children and the legislature has a responsibility to respond. I encourage everyone who cares about the safety of students to not only contact the members of the Senate Education committee but to contact your friends and families and encourage them to do the same.

Chair Florence Shapiro 512-463-0108
Vice-Chair Dan Patrick 512-463-0107
John Carona 512-463-0116
Wendy Davis 512-463-0110
Mario Gallegos 512-463-0106
Steve Ogden 512-463-0105
Kel Seliger 512-463-0131
Leticia Van de Putte 512-463-0126
Royce West 512-463-0123

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

What I had anticipated to be a marathon session of the House yesterday turned about to be short stroll as voter suppression legislation (SB 14) was quickly removed from consideration after a "point of order". Points of order can be raised on a bill if the process by which it has been considered is not consistent with the Rules of the House (or Rules of the Senate in the Senate).

In the case of SB 14 a point of order was raised that the bill analysis included as part of the House committee report was inaccurate. House Rule 4, section 32 (12)(c) requires that committee reports include a section by section analysis that details, in plain language, what the bill will do. Because every bill has an analysis it is common for many legislators to read the analysis and never bother reading the actual bill. Recognizing that this creates a situation where the drafter of the committee report could purposefully misinform members about what the bill would do there is a long held tradition in the House of calling points of order for inaccurate analysis. SB 14 would allow a voter who was barred from the polls due to lack of photo ID to cast a provisional ballot and then provides 6 days for the voter to prove their identity, the bill analysis included in the committee report said 6 "business" days. Speaker Straus ruled that this made the analysis inaccurate and so sent the bill back to committee so that the committee report could be corrected.

The committee corrected the report yesterday afternoon and SB 14 has been placed back on the House schedule to be considered tomorrow.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Happy Anniversary Legislative Queery!

Today marks one year of the Legislative Queery blog. Thank you to everyone who has visited, linked, liked or supported this little project. I particularly want to thank my long suffering partner Jason Brunelle for his countless hours serving as the unofficial editor of LegislativeQueery.com

Some fun facts:
Thank you all for your support, I have two requests for our anniversary:

Call, and encourage others to call, The members of the Senate Education Committee to tell them to support anti-bullying legislation (more info HERE)

If you're not already, become LQ's fan on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter and please suggest us to others.

Day 70: Bullies and Voting and Marriage - Oh My

Today is the 70th day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. The House reconvenes at 11 am, the Senate at 1:30 pm. Day 70 marks the half-way point in the 140 day legislative session, now is when things really start to speed up.

The Senate Education Committee will hear public testimony on SB 42, SB 205 & SB 242 on Tuesday, all three bills are designed to address the issue of bullying in schools. SB 242 is the most comprehensive of the three and is expected to the "water bearer" for bullying legislation in the Senate. According to a 2010 poll by Equality Texas 79.2% of Texas voters support legislation that protects school children, including LGBT school children, from bullying. Despite this the prospect of any meaning reform this session is looking dire. It is vital that members of the committee hear from Texans, particularly teachers and parents, about the need for this legislation. I encourage everyone who cares about the safety of students to not only contact the members of the Senate Education committee but to contact your friends and families and encourage them to do the same.

Chair Florence Shapiro 512-463-0108
Vice-Chair Dan Patrick 512-463-0107
John Carona 512-463-0116
Wendy Davis 512-463-0110
Mario Gallegos 512-463-0106
Steve Ogden 512-463-0105
Kel Seliger 512-463-0131
Leticia Van de Putte 512-463-0126
Royce West 512-463-0123

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

Voter suppression legislation will be debated on the House floor this morning. The Bill (SB 14) already has 89 House sponsors and cosponsors, well more than the 76 votes required to pass. SB 14 is a Senate bill, any bill that becomes law must pass both the House and Senate. SB 14 was introduced and passed in the Senate and is now working it's way through the House. The bill would require a state or federally issued photo ID to vote. This was a major campaign issue for many of the teabaggers who firmly believe that undocumented immigrants are voting, despite multiple investigations that have failed to find any cases of in-person voting fraud. Absentee-voting, the method by which every documented case of voter fraud in Texas in the last 20 years has been committed, would not be affected by this bill. Most of the day on the House floor is going to follow this pattern:
  • Democrat offers an amendment designed to make sure a vulnerable population still has ballot access
  • Republican moves to table the amendment
  • amendment is tabled on a party-line vote
-----------------

HCR 110, encouraging President Obama to enforce the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act" has picked up some additional co-authors. (for more information on HCR 110 read LQ's analysis of the resolution and it's faults HERE)

The list of current co-authors is:

Jose Aliseda 512-463-0645
Cindy Burkett 512-463-0464
Erwin Cain 512-463-0650
Stefani Carter 512-463-0454
Gary Elkins 512-463-0722
Dan Flynn 512-463-0880
Linda Harper-Brown 512-463-0641
Phil King 512-463-0738
Jim Landtroop 512-463-0604
Lyle Larson 512-463-0646
Dee Margo 512-463-0728
Doug Miller 512-463-0325
Charles Perry 512-463-0542
Four Price 512-463-0470
Charles Schwertner 512-463-0309
Van Taylor 512-463-0594
Raul Torres 512-463-0484
Bill Zedler 512-463-0374

Saturday, March 19, 2011

HB 910 & SB 1324: Surrogate Parent Agreements

HB 910 by Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) and SB 1324 by Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) amend the provisions in the Texas Family code that allow people who use surrogate mothers to enter into binding agreements during the pregnancy. Prior to the these provisions being added to Family Code (sec. 160 subchapter H) it was not possible for parents to enter into a binding agreement with surrogate mothers regarding custody of the child. This meant that, up to 90 days following the birth of the child, a surrogate mother could change her mind and take the child away from its parents, even if the surrogate had no genetic relation to the child.

The current law, adopted in 2001, allows legally married couples who reside in Texas to create a binding agreement with potential surrogate mothers (although it requires the consent of the surrogate's husband, if she is married). It does not allow people who are legally recognized as "single" to enter into similar agreements, forcing them to petition for adoption after the birth.

HB 910 and its Senate companion SB 1324 would allow people who are legally recognized as "single" to enter into the same kind of surrogacy agreements currently available to married people. However, the bills specifically prohibit two single people from entering into a joint agreement with a surrogate mother. This means if a same-sex couple chooses to conceive using a surrogate mother that only one of them would have a legal claim to custody of the child until after birth, when the other one could apply for joint custody.

There is a provision in the current statute, added in 2007, that provides that an unmarried man who provides sperm for artificial insemination with the specific intent of becoming the father of the resulting child is legally recognized as the father of the child. So if this legislation becomes law male same-sex couples will still be able to protect themselves if one of them is the sperm donor and the other enters into a binding agreement with the surrogate mother.

HB 910 and SB 1324 are far from perfect. I spoke with a staffer for Rep. Thompson who said that she is aware that the legislation, as currently worded, excludes same-sex couples who conceive using a surrogate. The staffer told me that Rep. Thompson hopes to be able to fix that omission during a later legislative session, but that in the current political climate it would kill the bill which, at this time, has no opposition.

Friday, March 18, 2011

An Open Letter to Dan Ramos

From: Daniel Williams [[email protected]]
Date: Fri, Mar 18, 2011 at 3:18 PM
Subject: I'm a termite
To: Dan Ramos [[email protected]]

Dear Mr. Ramos,

I must admit that I found your recent comments claiming that LGBT people in general and the Stonewall Democrats specifically were like
"white termites who have infiltrated the [Democratic] party much like termites infiltrate your house" extremely upsetting. Although I have never been a member of the Baxar County Democratic party, of which you are chairman, I have been active in Democratic party politics in Denton, Dallas, Travis and Harris counties and initially found your statement to be shockingly ungrateful for all of the work that I, and people like me, have done to support the Democratic party.

I'm told that the Baxar county party treasurer is currently under indictment for embezzling funds. It must be frightening for you to have an organization you care about experiencing such troubles. I'm sure that there must be uninformed people who question how you are connected to the scandal. Under that stress I can understand why you might attempt to deflect criticism onto a group of people already held suspect by many.

I have mulled over your choice of term: "termites". I have to admit I have not spent much time considering termites or their attributes. So after my initial shock abated I decided to figure out exactly what it was I was being compared to. I discovered some interesting facts:
  • All termites are social insects, they live in highly organized communities with thousands of members (actually, that sounds a lot like living in the Cedar Springs area of Dallas or the Montrose area of Houston).
  • Young termites are responsible for the manual labor of the colony (I've had countless experiences walking door to door in support of Democratic candidates with different Stonewall Democratic clubs - inevitably the younger Stonewalls are out on the streets while the straight party stalwarts stay at the campaign headquarters and reminisce about the old days - so maybe, in that respect, we are a little like termites ).
  • Termite colonies work non-stop 24 hours a day (I've only met state Stonewall president Dan Graney a few times, but he always seems to be working - the same can be said for people like Brad Pritchett of Houston, Eli Olivarez of the Rio Grande Valley, Omar Narvaez of Dallas and countless other Stonewall leaders throughout the state. At any given time, I can assure you, a Stonewall Democrat is working for your party - maybe you're on to something with this whole "termite" thing).
  • Termites have been around for millions of years (and queer Democrats have been around since the party's inception -anyone who is just now noticing us just hasn't been paying attention).
Maybe you're right, maybe I am a termite. Maybe in your blind screed of bigotry you have hit upon a high compliment to the hard-working Stonewall Democrats all over the state. Maybe your particular brand of mental illness has granted you the superpower of uncannily identifying the most accurate animal analogue for a group of people. But be warned, because here's two more facts about termites:
  • When a termite colony is no longer hospitable - they swarm: large clouds of termites - thousands of them - leave the colony to find a better home
  • Termites cause approximately 2 billion dollars of damage nationwide each year. Just imagine how much damage LGBT Democrats could do if they, perhaps offended by some party leader's remark, decided to stop donating to the party.
So thank you for your compliment. Thank you for so succinctly describing the attributes, and power, of queer Democrats. Having correctly identified who my community is I request that you politely resign you position. Thank you, in advance, for your timely consideration.

Isopteraly,

Daniel Williams


Thursday, March 17, 2011

What Repealing DOMA Would, and Wouldn't, Do

New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler and California Senator Dianne Feinstein have introduced legislation in both the U.S. House and Senate to repeal the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act" (DOMA). DOMA was passed in 1996 by the federal congress. It has two substantive sections. Section two which allows states to not recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. and section three which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. The home states of the authors are notable as neither New York or California currently allow same-sex marriages (although New York recognizes marriages performed in other states and California's prohibition against marriage equality has been struck down by the federal courts but is currently being enforced pending appeal).

The Bills (H.R. 1116 and S.598) have been titled "The Respect for Marriage Act" (RFMA). They would strike the original language of DOMA and replace it with a requirement that the federal government recognize marriages that are legal in the State in which the couple resides. RFMA would not require the federal government to recognize a same-sex marriage performed in a state that has marriage equality if the couple resides in a state that does not.

Currently five states allow same-sex marriage: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, and New Hampshire. The District of Columbia and the Coquille Indian Tribe also allow same-sex marriage. RFMA specifically includes the District of Columbia as well as "any other territory or possession of the United States" in it's provisions. The Coquille Tribe is a federally recognized sovereign nation whose lands fall with-in the boundaries of the state of Oregon. Since the Tribe is neither a "territory or possession" of the United States it is unclear if RFMA would require the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages they perform.

The Respect for Marriage Act would effectively codify the February 23rd announcement by the Obama Administration that it would no longer defend challenges to section three of DOMA. Since RFMA would not require states to recognize marriages legally performed in other states it would, in practice, allow section two of DOMA to remain in effect despite removing it from the books; at least for the time being...

Article 4, section 1 of the United States constitution requires states to honor the "public acts, records, and judicial proceedings" of other states, but allows the United States congress to define exactly which acts, records and proceedings are honored. With DOMA congress exercised that power by allowing states to ignore the marriage records of other states. If RFMA passes there will be no federal standard governing whether or not a state must recognize a same-sex marriage legally performed in another state. In the absence of a governing federal law the laws of each state will apply (for instance, both the Texas Constitution and Family Code prohibit the recognition of same-sex marriage so even if RFMA passed Texans in same-sex couples who wished to get married would still be unable to do so). However, under RFMA those state laws will be susceptible to constitutional challenges under article 4, section 1 and the 14th amendments guarantee of "due process under the law" and protections against abridgment of priviledges.

Rep. Nadler filed this legislation last session as well (H.R. 3567). A senate companion was never filed. Last session the bill had 120 co-sponsors including Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee and Eddie Bernice Johnson from Texas. The current version has 108 co-sponsors in the House and 18 co-sponsors in the Senate. Both Jackson Lee and Johnson have signed-on in the House. Neither of the Texas state senators are co-sponsors.

A Catch of Co-Authors

The last few days have seen a flurry of additional joint authors and co-authors for bills important to the LGBT community. Joint authors of bills have the same relationship with the bill as the member who filed it. Co-Authors are members who sign on to a bill to show their support. Since bills must be heard in committee before being debated on the floor co-authorship is the only way for members who don't happen to sit on the committee hearing the bill to officially state their support.

Bills under consideration by the 82nd Texas Legislature which have recently added co-authors:
  • HB 24 by Ryan Guillen (allowing cyber-bullies to be put in alternative school) added Raphael Anchia
  • HB 130 by Carol Alvarado (creating a state-wide bullying hotline) added Richard Pena Raymond and Raphael Anchia
  • HB 170 by Richard Pena Raymond added Raphael Anchia
  • HB 224 by Mark Strama (anti-bullying bill) added Alma Allen, Carol Alvarado, Raphael Anchia, Eric Johnson and Eddie Rodriguez
  • HB 415 by Raphael Anchia (allowing same-sex parents to receive accurate birth certificates for their children) added Armando Walle and Eddie Lucio III
  • HB 944 by Dawnna Dukes (requiring School Health Advisory Counsel to make recommendations on school bullying policies) added Elliott Naishtat
  • SB 242 by Wendy Davis (anti-bullying bill) added Leticia Van De Putte and Eddie Lucio Jr.
Don't see your reps name on a bill that's important to you? Give them a call and ask them to "co-author" the bill. You can find out who represents you HERE.

Unfortunately, HCR 110 by Paul Workman (which instructs President Obama to defend the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act") also added 4 co-authors: Gary Elkins, Dan Flynn, Phil King and Bill Zedler.

HB 2301: Standardize Court Ordered Changes of Gender

HB 2301 by Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) would create a state-wide standard for courts to issue change of gender orders. Currently law recognizes that courts have the power to issue "change of sex" orders in Family Code Sec. 2.005. However the code gives no specific instruction on the nature of those changes and does not specifically lay out which public documents may be corrected to reflect a person's actual gender.

Without that specific instruction a patchwork of standards have popped up around the state. Some courts will issue a change of gender order based on a person's affidavit that the gender assigned to them on official state documents is inaccurate and does not reflect their true gender. Other courts require a physicians statement that the person's true gender is in conflict with that assigned by the state. Still others require a person applying to have their gender markers corrected to have undergone surgical intervention to align their assumed physical gender with their true gender and others refuse to issue change of gender orders at all.

Current administrative practice prohibits courts from correcting birth certificates to reflect a persons actual gender, but orders to amend identifying documents such as drivers licenses are somewhat common.

HB 2301 would allow courts to order identifying markers on state documents, including birth certificates, to correctly reflect a person's true gender and specifically prohibits courts from requiring corrective surgery as a prerequisite of the order. The bill does specify that a person applying for the order must present a physician's affidavit attesting to the conflict between their actual gender and that reported on their identifying documents.

The purpose of identifying documents like driver's licenses or birth certificates is to allow a person to prove that they are who they say they are. If a person is one gender, and lives their life as a person of that gender, and their identifying documents say that they are a different gender it can create difficulties when trying to do something as simple as cash a check.

The current mish-mash of court procedure creates a situation where those who have access to knowledgeable lawyers, or are well-connected, can get their gender markers corrected relatively easily, while those without money or connections often struggle to find the right court and file the right petition. The need for a standardized process is readily evident, but I question the exact construction of this bill. Requiring people petitioning the court for a change of gender order to provide a physician's affidavit creates a situation where trans-identified people are forced, once again, to rely on other people's opinion of their gender. Even if a physician is assumed to be an expert it is still insulting to require a third party to affirm a characteristic as personal as gender to be taken seriously. Imagine, for a second, that in order to prove your race, religion or sexual orientation to the court you were required to bring in a third party who agreed with you.

I've yet to meet a trans-identified person who was attempting to have their identifying documents corrected who wasn't absolutely certain of their gender. It is an unnecessary obstacle, and frankly insulting, to require the expense and inconvenience of obtaining a physician's affidavit for what is, essentially, correcting a typo.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Scenes from a Teabagger Counterprotest

Yesterday's "Day of Outrage" rally in Houston was a community wide response to the Texas' legislature's threats to cut vital public services like HIV/AIDS medication assistance and public education. I was late to the rally at Houston City Hall (damn job that pays the bills) so I missed the kerfuffle when a teabagger decked Harris County AFL-CIO president Dale Wortham. The Houston Chronicle reports that Wortham bravely refused to retaliate and that the crowd subdued his attacker. The man, who has not yet been publicly identified, was taken into police custody.

Even though I missed out on the headliner act of teabagger violence and hate I was still able to catch the sideshow, including
  • The teabagger couple who, when LULAC director Herlinda Garcia spoke of how budget cuts would hurt children, rubbed their eyes in the universal sarcastic symbol for "boo hoo", intoned "poor children" and then cackled. They literally cackled at the misfortune of children, like Disney villains.
  • The group of three teabaggers who heckled a prayer delivered by one of the speakers.
  • The middle aged male teabagger who shouted "terrorist" at the top of his lungs through the message delivered by Mustafa Carroll, president of the Council on American Islamic Relations, and a personal friend of mine.
  • The small group of teabaggers, all men, who chanted "Hey, hey, how many queers did I kill today"
  • The young teabagger woman who walked throughout city hall plaza calling everything "socialist": the publicly supported radio station, the booth for the NAACP, the reporter for the Houston Press; all the while oblivious to the tax-payer funded public park she was enjoying the use of.
There was a time when I viewed the teabagger movement as simply uninformed, the result of a culture that neither celebrates or teaches how its government works or came into being. Yesterday was not the first time I had interacted with these violent reactionaries, but after witnessing their vile, racist, homophobic and down-right maleficent behavior yesterday I am reawakened for the need to denounce teabaggery with constant vehemence.

Day 65: Strama's Bully Bill: Take Three

Today is the 65th day of the regular session of the 82nd Texas Legislature. The House reconvenes at 10 am, the Senate at 11 am.

Last Friday, March 11, was the 60th day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. The 60th day of session is the deadline for filing bills in the House, the Senate does not have a deadline (other than the end of session). That means that the 3,804 bill currently filed in the House are all the bills that will be filed.

This doesn't mean that new legislative ideas can't pop up. As bills begin to make their way through committee and on to the House floor they will be subject to amendment. Technically speaking, amendments in committee are actually made to the committee report, not to the bill. Each committee that hears a bill is charged with creating a report on that bill. Most of the time they don't bother creating the report unless the bill is "reported favorably", or approved by the committee. It is possible for committees to "report unfavorably" but they generally don't bother.

In addition to the text of the bill committee report always includes a "fiscal note" (an estimate of what the bill will cost the state); a "bill summary" (an everyday language report of what the bill does) and list of people who testified on the bill when it was heard in committee. The report may also contain, depending on the content of the bill:
  • a dynamic economic impact statement (if bill impacts the number of jobs at state agencies),
  • a criminal justice impact statement (if the bill would impact the number of people in state jails or the cost of housing people in state jails),
  • an equalized education funding impact statement (if the bill changes the way the state distributes funds to local school districts),
  • an actuarial impact statement (if the bill effects the state's public employee retirement system),
  • a water development policy impact statement (if the bill creates a water district),
  • a tax equity note (if the bill creates a tax).
The committee report may also contain suggested changes to the bill. This is known as a "committee substitute". Committee substitutes may not substantially change the intended purpose of the bill, but they can vary widely from the original content of the bill. The committee substitute is is only a suggestion by the committee. Until the House agrees to "take up" the bill, approves the committee report and then decides to consider the committee substitute instead of the original bill the committee substitute remains only a suggestion. Once the substitute is considered in lieu of the original bill it becomes the official version which is debated on the House floor.

This is the challenge currently facing Rep. Strama with his anti-bullying bill (HB 224). Strama has already offered one new version of his bill to the House Public Education committee. After holding a public hearing on the new version he has returned to the drawing board and is currently drafting a new version designed to address the concerns raised by the committee.

The biggest concern, by far, raised by members of the House Public Education committee and other House members is with the "cyber-bullying" portions of the bill. Strama's original version, and his first suggested committee substitute, would both allow school administrators to address on-line harassment that either 1) was sent from on campus or from a school event 2) was received on campus or at a school event or 3) was designed to disrupt the educational environment (for instance a tweet telling a student that they will be assaulted if they come to school the next day is designed to prevent that student from getting an education). Critics of the bill have argued that all off-campus behavior should be addressed by parents and law enforcement, not by school administrators and have characterized the cyber-bullying provisions as an "over-reach".

Much of the behavior that would be covered by Strama's narrowly-defined cyber-bullying provision is already illegal under Texas penal code. For instance, a tweet telling a student that they will be assaulted if they come to school the next day is a Class A misdemeanor under Texas penal code section 22.07, and creating a fake Facebook or Twitter account proporting to be another student and portraying that student as sexually lascivious is a third degree felony under Texas penal code section 33.07. Under currently law a teacher or administrator who is aware of this kind of on-line harassment cannot address it, except by calling local law enforcement.

Nobody gets into teaching because they like the idea of turning children who make bad decisions into felons. They get into teaching because they care about children and want to help them make good decisions. In revising his bill to make it more palatable to the committee I hope that Rep. Strama will, at the very least, include provisions that allow administrators to address off-campus behavior that is currently illegal using methods more appropriate to children, such as allowing administrators to require counseling or mandate participation in trainings designed to improve the decision-making skills of these would-be felons.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

HCR 110: Austin, We Have a 10th Amendment Problem

HCR 110 by Rep. Paul Workman (R-Travis County) expresses the desire of the Texas Legislature for President Obama to defend the so-called "Defense of Marriage" (DOMA) act against court challenges. DOMA was passed in 1996 by the federal congress. It prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage and allows individual states to not recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

(HCR stands for "House Concurrent Resolution". Concurrent resolutions must be passed by both the House and Senate and (in most cases) signed by the governor. They cannot create new laws but are used to express the will of the legislature and, in some situations, to allow the legislature to exercise its power. HCR 110 expresses the will of the legislature for the executive branch of the federal government to take a particular course of action. If passed it would have no binding power over the president.)

On February 23rd the Obama Administration issued a press release stating that it would not defend section 3 of DOMA in two pending suits challenging its validity: Pedersen v. OPM and Windsor v. United States. Section 3 of DOMA is the part that prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. Pedersen v. OPM was brought by a group of same-sex- spouses of current, retired and deceased federal employees, all of whom were legally married. It seeks to require the federal government (their spouse's employer) to provide them the same spousal benefits it provides the legal spouses of its straight employees. Winsor v. United States was brought by the widow of a New York woman who, although her marriage was recognized by New York, was subject to federal inheritance taxes upon the death of her wife that would not have been levied had her marriage been recognized by the Internal Revenue Service, a branch of the federal government. Both cases argued, in part, that the licensure of marriage is a right reserved to the States under the 10th amendment of the U.S. Constitution and so for the federal government to refuse to recognize a marriage recognized by a state is unconstitutional.

The Obama Administration has made no statement regarding its defense of section 2 of DOMA, which allows individual states to not recognize same-sex marriages from other states.

The irony of HCR 110 is that last session (2009) Rep. Workman co-authored HCR 50, which expressed the sentiment of the legislature that the 10th amendment prohibited the federal government from imposing "mandates" on the State of Texas (by mandates they mean things like air quality standards and the voting rights act). He also was the principle (and only) author of HCR 54 which claimed that the 10th amendment prohibited the federal government from from establishing the Department of Education, the Federal Highway Administration, the Department of Commerce, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Labor.

It seems that Rep. Workman loves the 10th amendment, except when its used to allow queer people to be treated like everyone else. Thus is the circuitous logic of the bigot, believing that the constitution should only be used to protect people they like, never people they hate.

Workman also argues in HCR 110 that
"The constitutional role of the president of the United States is to execute the laws, not adjudicate them; it is well-established policy of the U.S. Department of Justice to defend a federal statute unless no reasonable argument can be made in its defense, but instead President Obama has unilaterally decided that DOMA is unconstitutional; the constitutionality of this law should be determined by the courts, not by the executive branch"
That little phrase "unless no reasonable argument can be made in its defense" is a whopping understatement. Rep. Workman didn't write this resolution. It was written by one of the many fine lawyers at the Texas Legislative Counsel. I suspect that that knowledgeable lawyer insisted that this little phrase be included as clear precedent exists for the Justice department to discontinue defense of unconstitutional laws (precedent I assume Rep. Workman is either unaware of, or chooses to ignore). According to Law.com the Justice department declined to defend unconstitutional laws 13 times during the period from 2004-10 alone (under both the Bush and Obama administrations' Justice Departments). Other specific examples of the Justice department declining to defend acts of congress include
  • Buckley v. Valeo - 1976 - The Ford declined to defend portions of a campaign finance law enacted in the wake of the Watergate scandal
  • INS v. Chadha - 1983 - the Regan administration declined to defend congressional power to block visas
  • Hornell Brewing Co. v. Brady - 1992 - the first Bush administration declined to defend a law prohibiting the use of the name "Crazy Horse" for any alcoholic beverage
Certainly presidential administrations must exercise their power to not defend acts of congress with the utmost care, but it is not an unprecedented move, nor is it outside of the purview of the department of justice to do so.

If you would like to point out the Honorable Representative Workman's hypocrisy to him, or educate him on the well-established precedent for the department of justice to discontinue defending an unconstitutional law you may do so by calling him at 512-463-0652 or by e-mail at [email protected]

Friday, March 11, 2011

HB 2638: Create Loophole for Attorney General in Same-Sex Divorces

HB 2638 by Rep. Warren Chisum (R-Parmer, Bailey, Lamb, Castro, Swisher, Armstrong, Briscoe, Hall, Donley, Collingsworth, Childress, Gray, Wheeler, Hutchinson, Roberts, Hemphill, Lipscomb, Ochiltree and Hansford counties) would allow the State Attorney General to intervene in "a right or claim" stemming from a same-sex marriage or civil union within 90 days of a court decision regarding that "right or claim".

The bill is a response to Texas v. Naylor et, al., an attempted appeal of a same-sex divorce case out of Austin. In that case the local family court issued a final decree of divorce for Naylor and Daly (who were married in Massachusetts). The day after the final divorce decree the Attorney General's office, on behalf of the state (that's you and me), attempted to appeal the decision on the grounds that Texas Family Code section 6.204 states that:
"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. The state or an agency or political subdivision of the state may not give effect to a public act, record, or judicial proceeding that creates, recognizes, or validates a marriage between persons of the same sex or a civil union in this state or in any other jurisdiction; or right or claim to any legal protection, benefit, or responsibility asserted as a result of a marriage between persons of the same sex or a civil union in this state or in any other jurisdiction."
In other words: "Not only does the State of Texas not allow marriage equality, but anything even sort of like same-sex marriage will not be recognized by our courts and-we're-all-going-to-stare-at-the-floor-now-and-pretend-that-every-other-state-works-the-same-way" (LQ's analysis of the House vote approving this legislation HERE)

The Attorney General's office believes that since the courts are prohibited from recognizing same-sex marriage there was no way for them to grant same-sex divorces (since a divorce can only be granted to people who are married). (The Attorney General is the state's lawyer, he is responsible for defending the laws of the state, but is a member of the executive branch, not the judiciary, and so can not tell the courts what to do.)

The Texas third court of appeals (which has jurisdiction over Austin and surrounding area) found that the State did not have "standing" in the case. "Standing" is the legal right to intervene in a case. In order for the state to have "standing" to appeal the decision of the trail court permitting the divorce the state (again, that's you and me) would have to have been a party to the original divorce proceedings. Since the state did not get involved until after the family court rendered its verdict it was not involved in the original case and, the third court of appeals found, not able to appeal the decision.

HB 2638 would create a loophole that would automatically give the Attorney General the ability to intervene, even after the local courts have made their decision. This would create an unprecedented power for the state to meddle in the day-to-day operations of local county courts.

On a side note: the state does have standing when, as part of their legal arguments, one of the parties in the case seeks to have a portion of state law declared unconstitutional. Say, for instance, Family Code sec. 6.204. However, the judge who granted the divorce issued no opinion about the constitutionality of sec. 6.204, and the appeals court found that there were legal arguments to be made that sec 6.204 did not prohibit same-sex divorce since:
"divorce is a "benefit" of state residency, rather than a "legal protection, benefit, or responsibility" resulting from marriage... One could also argue that, under the plain language of section 6.204, the trial court is only prohibited from taking actions that create, recognize, or give effect to same-sex marriages on a "going-forward" basis, so that the granting of a divorce would be permissible."
The appeals court was quick to say that it wasn't issuing an opinion about the validity of such arguments, but that since there was plenty of justification for the local court to act, and since the trial judge hadn't said anything about the "constitutionality" of the sec. 6.204 then there was no constitutional attack against which the Attorney General needed to defend and therefore the state could not claim standing on the grounds that a portion of state law was being made unconstitutional.

The third court of appeals ruling is fascinating reading, by the way. You can find the full text HERE.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Day 52: Eyes That Do Not See

Today is the 52nd day of the 82nd Texas Legislature. The House reconvenes at 10:00 am, the Senate at 1:30 pm.

The House will continue to debate the controversial "sonogram" bill this morning. The bill would require women who wish to terminate a pregnancy to both listen to the fetal heartbeat and view a fetal sonogram. Expect the debate to be long and passionate.

Also this morning the House will honor the wedding anniversaries of six different straight couples. Each session both chambers pass numerous resolutions honoring the lives and accomplishments of Texans. There are hardly ever passed recognizing queer Texans (last session the House passed one), and certainly none honoring their relationships.

This is particularly striking after listening to the debate on HB 224 (the "big" anti-bullying bill) in which representatives of the Texas Eagle Forum and the Freemarket Association railed against the inclusion of the words "sexual orientation" (which had already been removed in the committee substitute that was actually be discussed) in the bill's reporting requirement, claiming they created "special rights". Originally the words were in a requirement that schools report instances of bullying to the state enumerated by the motivating cause of the bullying, there was no protection provided by this requirement. Since the reporting requirement didn't grant any student a right (other than the right to be a statistic) it's hard to see how it would have granted a "special right".

But there's the rub! To far right wingers even acknowledging the existence of queer people, let alone queer kids, is a "special right", while routinely, daily, recognizing and celebrating straight people is par for the course. This is the heart of straight privilege. The privilege of living in a world that constantly says that people like you are special, and the privilege of then being able to pretend that if anyone else's existence is recognized that it somehow discriminates against you.

For more information on congratulatory resolutions read Legislative Queery's post "Why Congratulatory Resolutions Matter".

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Day 50: Here We Go Round the Committee Chambers, at Two O'clock in the Afternoon (or whenever)

Today is the 50th day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas legislature. The House reconvenes at 10 am, the Senate at 11.

Three House committees will hold hearings today on bills that could improve the lives of queer Texans:
  • The Criminal Jurisprudence Committee will hear HB 172 by Veasey (D-Fort Worth), which would require the state to study the effectiveness of the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act, at 10:30 am or when the House finishes their business for the day. More info HERE.
  • The Human Services Committee will hear HB 130 by Alvarado (D-Houston), which would create a statewide bullying hot-line, at 2:00 pm or when the House finishes their business for the day. More info HERE.
  • The Public Education Committee will hear HB 24 by Guillen (D-Duval, Starr, Webb and Zapata counties) which would allow school administrators to address cyber-bullying and HB 224 by Strama (D-Travis county), which proposes a four-fold approach to fighting bullying (requiring training for teachers, staff, volunteers and students; allowing for the transfer of bullies from their victims classes/campuses; allowing school administrators to address cyber-bullying and requiring schools to compile reports on bullying), at 2:00 pm or when the House finishes their business for the day. More info HERE.
If you would like to watch any of these hearings you may do so on the House website HERE. Be forewarned, the House Administration Committee apparently thinks it's 1998 and so broadcasts committee hearings using RealPlayer, which is notoriously buggy. Expect your window to crash on a regular basis. (I suppose this is an improvement over the House Human Services Committee which seems to think it's 1898.)

The bills will be "laid out" in committee: Each bills author will get up, explain what the bill does, and say why they think it should become law. Members of the public will then have a chance to tell the committee why they think the bill should or should not become law. Finally the bill's author will get to make a closing statement on the bill and the bill will be left "pending" in committee until the committee chair decides to call for a vote. Committees rarely vote on bills the same day they are heard, usually waiting at least a week to take a vote.

The Dallas Voice reported yesterday that Rep. Strama will offer a committee substitute to HB 224 (read Legislative Queery's response HERE). House committees are charged with studying bills and making recommendations to the whole House about whether those bills should become law. The recommendation is called a "committee report". A committee substitute replaces the proposed bill with another bill on the same topic. It is included in the committee report which is then sent to one of the House's five "calendars committees" (different calendars committees handle different kinds of bills). The calendars committee then places the bill on the House schedule for consideration. If there is a committee substitute when the bill is brought up for discussion on the House floor the first order of business will be to approve the committee substitute as a replacement for the original bill. It is not until the whole House votes to "take up" the substitute that it officially replaces the bill.

Chuck Smith, Deputy Director of Equality Texas, posted a link to the proposed committee substitute in the comments section of the Dallas Voice article. He writes that:
"ALL members of our Texas Safe Schools Coalition support the committee substitute language, including Equality Texas, Transgender Education Network of Texas, and the GLBT Issues Committee of the National Association of Social Workers-Texas. "
The Texas Safe Schools Coalition is a group of lobbying and community organizations that have come together to advocate for legislation designed to address bullying.