Friday, April 29, 2011

Equality Texas Issues Action Alert: HB 1942 in House On Monday

Equality Texas has issued an action alert encouraging Texans to contact their State Representatives in support of HB 1942, which is scheduled for debate in the House on Monday. HB 1942 is the compromise anti-bullying bill drafted by the House Public Education Committee and incorporats elements of several other anti-bullying bills filed this session. It is the only House Bill designed to address bullying that has made it out of committee this session and is our best hope for any meaningful legislative action on the issue.

You can send an automatically generated e-mail to your Representative HERE.

The full text of the alert is below:

ACTION ALERT

Vote is Monday, May 2nd on Anti-Bullying Bill HB 1942!

Fact: Time is running out on the Texas Legislature to pass meaningful legislation to address the loss of life associated with bullying, cyberbullying, and harassment. Barely over one month remains in the Session and lawmakers are focused on the budget and redistricting.

Fact: According to information compiled by the Texas School Safety Center at Texas State University - San Marcos, there have been four bullying-related suicides of Texas students since the 2009 Legislative Session when lawmakers also failed to pass meaningful legislation.

Hunter Layland Montana Lance Jon Carmichael Asher Brown

Hunter Layland, Cleburne, 9/09

Montana Lance, The Colony, 1/10 Jon Carmichael, Joshua, 3/10

Asher Brown, Houston, 9/10

Fact: House Bill 1942 by Rep. Diane Patrick has just been added to the House General State Calendar for a vote on Monday, May 2nd!

Fact: We need thousands of Texans to contact their State Representative now and urge passage of House Bill 1942 by Rep. Diane Patrick .

We simply cannot allow the clock to run out again without taking meaningful action to protect the lives of Texas children.

Please act now.

Click here to send an email to your State Representative.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Day 107: The Senate, or how to ignore the rules while following them

Today is the 107th day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. The House reconvenes at 10, the Senate at 11. Several good pieces of legislation passed both bodies yesterday, but contentious bills under consideration today will undoubtedly slow the process and make for a late evening for lawmakers. LQ's analysis of the day in House is HERE, this is what's going on in the Senate:

The Texas constitution requires bills to be "read" in each chamber on three separate days, but the Senate notoriously disregards this requirement: After first reading bills are sent to committee then, if the committee approves, they are sent back to the whole Senate and placed on one of several "calendars," lists of different kinds of bills to be considered on second reading. The senate has a rule requiring bills to be considered in the order they are voted out of committee, however Senators may place their bills on the "intent calendar," a list of bills to be considered out of order if 2/3 of the Senate agrees to set aside that rule. After the 2/3 vote the bill is then debated, potentially amended (within certain limits) and then voted on again.

Then, and this is where things get interesting, the Senate routinely votes to set aside the constitutional requirement to read bills on three separate days and goes ahead and takes the vote on third reading the same day. So that's four votes (bring up out of order, vote on second reading, vote to set aside three day requirement, vote on third reading) in quick succession, all on the same bill.

Yesterday the Senate passed on second and third reading SB 205 by Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston), making it the first anti-bullying bill of the session to get out of the chamber it originated in. The bill specifies requirements for the anti-bullying portions of the student codes of conduct that school districts are required to create(read LQ's original analysis of SB 205).

SB 205 was on the intent calendar, so it needed the support of 2/3 of the Senators to pass the first of the four votes. All of the Senators except Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) and Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) voted to bring the bill up out of order. There was no debate on SB 205 and no Senator wished to amend it so the vote to pass it on second reading was taken and it passed, 30 to 1 with only Nelson voting against. That's 2 votes down, 2 to go.

Next the Senate voted to set aside the constitutional requirement to read bills on three separate days. Both Birdwell and Nelson voted against setting aside the rule as did Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio). Wentworth, however, has a long history of consistently voting against bypassing the three day reading requirement. It's easy to understand why. While capitol insiders view the Senate's routine ignoring of a constitutional requirement as a matter of course, just the way business is done; outsiders are often shocked to hear that the constitution could just be ignored. Wentworth explains it this way:
"Because in my judgment no circumstance exists in this case to justify the extraordinary act of suspending a requirement of the Texas Constitution. The suspension of this Constitutional Rule has the direct and immediate effect of denying the people of Texas knowledge and notice of the passage of this measure until it has already been finally passed on third reading. Were we to have followed the requirement of the Texas Constitution, third reading and a vote on [SB 205] would have occurred on the next legislative day, allowing for Texans to have learned through news reports of our second reading vote exactly what we had tentatively passed. Third reading and a vote on the next legislative day would also have allowed our professional staff an opportunity overnight to make sure any amendments passed on second reading are technically correct."
Wentworth's objection to setting aside a portion of the constitution should not be read as opposition to the bill or indifference to the victims of bullying.

After the vote to dispense with the three day rule (vote 3 of 4) SB 205 passed on 3rd reading, 29 to 2 with both Birdwell and Nelson voting "nay." The bill now goes to the House where it will likely be sent to the House Committee on Public Education, which two weeks ago approved HB 1942, the big anti-bullying compromise bill that contains provisions similar to those in SB 205 (read LQ's analysis of HB 1942).

The Senate is expected to take up the state appropriations bill (HB 1) either today or tomorrow, including it's requirement, added via amendment by Rep. Wayne Christian (R-Center), that state universities which have a LGBT resource center equally fund a "Center for Family and Traditional Values." The American Independent has an interesting analysis of the Christian amendment, stating that since almost all LGBT resource centers, including those at Texas A&M and UT Austin, are funded by student fees, not state funds, the mandate to equally fund family and traditional values centers would not apply. A spokesperson for the UT Austin Gender and Sexuality Center confirms that their funding comes from student fees.

SB 723, the anti-trans-marriage bill, still sits, like an unexploded ordinance, on the Senate's schedule but is unlikely to be voted on this week.

Day 107: The House

Today is the 107th day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. The House reconvenes at 10, the Senate at 11. Several good pieces of legislation passed both bodies yesterday, but contentious bills under consideration today will undoubtedly slow the process and make for a late evening for lawmakers. Here's what's going on in the Senate, this is what's happening in the House:

The Texas constitution requires bills to be "read" in each chamber on three separate days (the whole bill isn't read, just the bill number and a very brief description, called the "caption"). After the first reading bills are sent to committee for consideration. The second reading is the first opportunity for members to debate or amend the bill on the floor, after which it is voted on. Continued debate is allowed after the third reading but amendment of the bill requires a 2/3 vote. After debate on third reading (and potentially amendment) the whole chamber votes on the bill again. If the bill passes on third reading it is then sent to the other chamber for further consideration.

HB 1666 by Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) expands the states current law against posting on social media sites with the intent to "harm, defraud, intimidate or threaten another person" to include non-social media sites like youtube and blogger. The sailed through the House on third reading yesterday, 141 to 1. Freshman Rep. John V. Garza (R-San Antonio) was the lone "nay" vote as even David Simpson (R-Longview), who opposed the bill on second reading voted "yea." It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

HB 2229 by Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) passed the House on second reading after initially being tabled. The bill makes permanent the Texas HIV Medication Advisory Committee. Texas has a program that provides medication assistance to low-income HIV-positive people. The Advisory Committee is made up of people who are on the ground dealing with the day-to-day functions of the program and is designed to provide real world input. Earlier this year the committee was dissolved when Department of State Health Services Commissioner, Dr. David Lakey, failed to renew it. It has since been reformed after public outcry. Coleman's bill seeks to prevent future commissioners from doing something similar.

HB 2229 seemed poised to pass until an amendment was added by Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon (D-San Antonio) creating a pilot needle exchange program. Texas has had needle exchange programs in the past and they are a proven way to reduce the transmission of HIV and other blood born diseases. However many House Republicans oppose such programs arguing that, by providing clean needles to IV drug users, the state is condoning drug use. The House voted on HB 2229 and it failed to pass, 53 to 89.

After talking with their colleagues Coleman and McClendon struck a compromise. A motion was made to reconsider the vote, McClendon withdrew her amendment, and the vote was taken again. This time HB 2229 passed on second reading, 104 to 36. It is on the schedule to be considered on third reading to today.

Also today, the House is scheduled to begin debate on the contentious issue of redistricting. The state constitution requires that the legislature redraw the House and Senate district borders every ten years in response to the U.S. census. HB 150 by Burt Solomons (R-Carrollton) will redraw the House borders. Solomons' proposal seeks to solidify the current Republican super-majority in the House. The committee hearings on the bill have been heated, with representatives of Hispanic and African American groups claiming that Solomons has purposefully divided their communities and lessened their voting power. The current House borders also dived the historic the "gayborhoods" of Montrose in Houston and Oaklawn in Dallas (Read LQ's Texas House Districts Divide Queer Main Street).

It should be a prime day for House floor watching, if you're so inclined you can watch the whole thing unfold HERE.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Day 106: Cyber-Bullying, HIV Medication and Unfunded Mandates

Today is the 106th day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. Both the House and Senate reconvene at 11 am. Today marks the beginning of the final fourth of session. With just five weeks to go the already harried pace of session is only going to accelerate.

In the broad conversation on legislation designed to combat cyber-bullying HB 1666, by Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) has largely stayed under the radar. By law created in 2009 it is illegal in Texas to create a fake profile on a social network site with the intent to "harm, defraud, intimidate or threaten another person." HB 1666 would expand this prohibition to include other, non-social networking, sites. The original legislation creating this law was written by former Republican Representative Brian McCall and passed with broad bi-partisan support, mostly due to McCall's descriptions of little old ladies being taken in by MySpace scams. But the law might also make schoolyard bullies think twice before setting up fake web pages or profiles designed to humiliate their peers and the logical expansion of its reach to non-social networking sites is welcomed. HB 1666 is scheduled to be debated on the House floor today.

Also scheduled in the House today is HB 2229 by Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston). HB 2229 would make permanent the Texas HIV Medication Advisory Committee. Texas has a program that provides medication assistance to low-income HIV-positive people, which is managed by the Texas Department of State Health Services. The Advisory Committee is made up of Doctors, Pharmacist, Nurses, Care Providers and low-income HIV-positive people in the program. It's designed to provide input from people who are on the ground dealing with the day-to-day functioning of the program.

Earlier this year the Department of State Health Services Commissioner, Dr. David Lakey, declined to renew the Advisory Committee when the rule creating it expired. After a massive outcry from Texans he eventually reappointed the committee and they had their first meeting on April 1st. Coleman's bill is designed to prevent future commissioners from taking similar steps and simply creates in the statute what is already happening. HB 2229 was voted out of committee with only one member objecting (Rep. Van Taylor (R-Plano)). Continuing to do what is already being done doesn't cost the the state anything extra, and allowing people who are directly affected by a program to have input in how it functions makes since.

Over in the Senate SB 205 is on the Intent Calendar (a list of bills Senators intend to bring up for a vote), as is HB 1:

SB 205, by Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) is one of several anti-bullying bills filed this session. Currently school districts must create student codes of conduct which are designed, in part, to discourage bullying. Whitmire's bill specifies requirements for the anti-bullying portions of those codes, while still allowing a great deal of leeway for the district (read LQ's original review of SB 205).

HB 1 is the budget. Each regular session versions of the budget are filed in both the House and the Senate as HB 1 and SB 1. The two bodies alternate whose version eventually winds up being the "real" budget, but both have an opportunity to edit and change it. This is a House budget year so HB 1, in some form, will likely become the budget for the State of Texas for the next two years.

When the House was creating the budget Rep. Wayne Christian (R-Center) stuck an amendment on it that requires public universities that have GLBT resource centers to also create, and equally fund, a "Center for Family and Traditional Values." (read LQ's analysis of the floor debate on the amendment). The student Senate at Texas A&M has already passed a resolution supporting funding its "Center for Family and Traditional Values" by cutting the GLBT resource center's budget in half. Given the tight budget at public universities and that Christian did not provide and additional funding as part of his mandate, it is likely that, if the amendment becomes law, other schools will be forced to similarly defund, or eliminate completely, their GLBT resource centers. Which, I'm certain, was Christian's intention. (The full text of the budget is HERE, the Christian amendment is on page 459)

The amendment must be removed in the Senate, which will likely tackle HB 1 this week, or it will become law. After the Senate passes it's version of HB 1 a "conference committee" made up of House and Senate members will meet to hash out compromises between the two bodies' versions of the bill. The conference committee is only permitted to make changes to portions of the budget that are different between the two versions. So if the budget passes the Senate with the Christian amendment still intact the conference committee will be unable to do anything to remove it. This is the last chance, at least for the next two years, for Texans to defend this important campus resource from an unfunded mandate designed to deprive queer college students of one of the few places on campus specifically designed to meet their needs.

You can find the contact information for your Senator HERE.

SB 723, the anti-trans-marriage bill, is still on the Senate's General Calendar, but it is unlikely that it will be voted on this week.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Victory on Anti-Trans Marriage Bill, At Least For Now

Queer activists across the country have spent the last week fighting SB 723, by Sen Tommy Williams (R - The Woodlands). The bill would remove a court ordered "change of sex" from the list of documents that can be used to prove identity when obtaining a marriage license and has the potential to void all marriages in Texas between anyone who has had their legally recognized sex changed and a person of the opposite sex.

The Senate has published it's intent calendar for next week and SB 723 is NOT on it! (The intent calendar is a list of bills that Senators intend to bring up for a vote using a loophole in the Senate rules that allows 2/3 of the Senate to consider bills out of order.) The Texas Legislature Online lists the last action on the bill as "Not again placed on intent calendar ," which may be the sweetest words queer Texans will read this session.

SB 723 is now on the Senate's "general calendar," a list of bills to be considered in accordance with Senate rules and which therefore do not require the 2/3 vote of support to pass. The General Calendar is organized by type of bill:
  1. Special orders: Like the intent calendar 2/3 of Senators must agree to make a bill a "special order," since SB 723 does not appear to have the required 2/3 support it is unlikely to be made a special order.
  2. Unfinished business: anything left over from the previous legislative day.
  3. Senate Joint Resolutions: Joint Resolutions are used by the legislature to exercise the power granted it by the state constitution (for instance to propose a constitutional amendment), Senate Joint Resolutions are Joint Resolutions that originate in the Senate.
  4. Senate Resolutions; just plain ol' "resolutions" (without the words "joint" or "concurrent" in front of them) are used to communicate with-in the body they originate (in this case the Senate). For instance resolutions can are used to write the Senate rules or for the Senate to thank and/or congratulate citizens.
  5. Senate Concurrent Resolutions: Concurrent Resolutions communicate the will of the legislature to other bodies, for instance instructing branches of the federal legislature to pass or repeal a law. Senate Concurrent Resolutions originate in the Senate.
  6. Senate Bills on third reading;Senate rules require that bills be read on "three of several days." On the first reading the bill is referred to committee. The second reading is the first opportunity for debate on the Senate floor. If the bill passes after the second reading it then must be read again and debated again on a different legislative day (2/3 of the Senate can by-pass this rule, which is common for bills on the intent calendar but rarer for bills on the general calendar).
  7. Senate Bills on second reading: Bills that are being debated for the first time on the Senate floor (see above). This is where SB 723 falls on the General Calendar.
  8. House Joint Resolutions: Like Senate Joint Resolutions, but originating in the House.
  9. House Bills on third reading: Like Senate Bills, but originating in the House.
  10. House Bills on second reading: Like Senate Bills, but originating in the House.
  11. House Concurrent Resolutions: Like Senate Concurrent Resolutions, but originating in the House.
Additionally, each of the 11 groupings of bills is placed in the order they were voted out of committee. Due to this strict structure for ordering the general calendar SB 723 is currently the 74th bill in line. Most of the time bills are only on the general calendar if they don't have the 2/3 support needed to be brought up through the intent calendar. This means that they tend to be more controversial and the floor debate on them tends to be prolonged, making working through the general calendar an arduous and lengthy process.

Never the less queer activists must continue to watch SB 723 carefully as it works its way up the general calendar. Williams has until May 20th to get this bill voted out of the Senate, after which it must work it's way through the House before May 25th. The longer it's held on the general calendar, the less likely it is to pass.

On the west wing of the capitol the companion bill to SB 723, House Bill 3098, has been sitting in the Public Health Committee since March 18th without a hearing. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) is both the author of HB 3098 and the chair of Public Health. Kolkhorst was also the author of the legislation that created the list of acceptable identity documents for obtaining a marriage license.

Before 2009 the only way for a person to prove their identity when obtaining a marriage license was to present the county clerk with a birth certificate. During the 81st session Kolkhorst filed HB 3666 to add a driver's license or passport to the list. Several legislators pointed out that some people don't have a driver's license or passport and started recommending other forms of ID, like a military ID, or school records. The session was rapidly coming to a close and Kolkhorst was desperate to get her bill out of the House and on to the Senate so she told her fellow House members to make a list of every identifying document they could think of and then sent that list to legislative council (the legislature's lawyers) for them to draft an amendment that incorporated everyone's suggestions.

Unfortunately for Kolkhorst, and fortunately for any Texan who's needed to have their legally recognized sex changed, she didn't bother to actually read the amendment before proposing it on the House floor. The amendment passed on a voice vote (meaning it was so uncontroversial that no-one wanted to bother counting votes) and then went to the Senate where it also passed with no debate and no opposition.

Now it seems that, two years later, Kolkhorst has read the law she created and wants to take it back. In contrast to SB 723 (which just removes one of the documents), HB 3098 rewrites the entire list, removing about half of the currently available documents, including a court ordered sex change. Additionally Kolkhorst's bill requires applicants for a marriage license who are using foreign identity documents to prove that they are legal residents of the United States.

As chair of the House Public Health Committee Kolkhorst can schedule her bill for a hearing pretty much whenever she wants, so I'm surprised she's let it sit idle for so long. Hopefully that indicates a lack of motivation on her part to pass the legislation. Although I suppose it's possible that she hasn't bothered to read this bill either, and has forgotten she's filed it.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Day 101: It's Still Yesterday in the Senate, Coleman Removes Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression from Asher's Law

Today is the 101st day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. The House is recessed until 8:00 am, the Senate until 9:00 am. That both houses are "recessed" is interesting, it means than, technically, when they reconvene they will still be on the previous legislative day.

When the Senate recessed yesterday neither SB 205 by Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston), which would clarify and expand the student codes of conduct that school districts must adopt (Read LQ's analysis of SB 205); nor SB 723, Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) which would effectively ban marriage between two people of the opposite sex if one of the partners is transgender (Read LQ's explanation of SB 723) had reached the floor. Since the Senate will be on the same legislative day when they return from their recess this morning they could, potentially, bring up those two bills.


HB 1386 (Asher's Law) by Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) was heard in the House Public Health Committee last night; well, technically this morning. The Public Health Committee hearing went into the wee small hours of the morning, and by the time Coleman's bill was brought up it was 4:10 am. Coleman told the committee that he was working on a "committee substitute" which was not yet available. The filed version of HB 1386 requires that school districts not discriminate against students on the basis of "the actual or perceived ethnicity, color, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, disability, religion, or national origin of the employee, student, or student's parent." Coleman indicated that his committee substitute would remove the enumerated list from the non-discrimination policy in his bill, but did not indicate if the entire non-discrimination requirement would be removed. LQ is working to get a copy of the committee substitute.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wharton Widow, Nikki Araguz, told to leave Sen Williams' Office

A short video clip of Warton widow Nikki Araguz and Human Rights Campaign Board Member Megan Stabler talking with a staffer for Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) has been released on YouTube. The video is below. Mrs. Araguz is the widow of Warton, TX volunteer firefighter Thomas Araguz, killed in the line of duty. Capt. Araguz's ex-wife Heather Delgado who claims that she, the woman Capt. Araguz choose to divorce, should receive the widow's benefits from his insurance, instead of Mrs. Araguz, the woman Capt. Araguz chose to marry.

Delgado's case is based on the assumption that since Mrs. Araguz's original birth certificate identified her as "male" that her marriage to Capt. Araguz is void. (Mrs. Araguz's birth certificate has been corrected and now identifies her as "female.") Currently Texas Family Code Sec. 2.05 allows a court ordered "sex change" to be used to establish a person's identity when obtaining a marriage license. Since the law specifically permits a document establishing that someone has changed their legally recognized sex to be used to obtain a marriage license, argue Araguz's lawyers, then clearly people who have changed their legally recognized sex are permitted by the law to marry people of the opposite legally recognized sex.

Williams' has filed Senate Bill 723 which would remove the portion of the Family Code that permits those court orders to be used when obtaining a marriage license.

In the video "Chelsea," a staffer for Williams, can be heard claiming that there is "ambiguity" in the current law and that SB 723 is necessary to clarify the law. This is a marked change from the argument Williams made in support of the bill in his "Author's Statement of Intent" which was included in the Senate Jurisprudence Committee's official report to the Senate. In his statement of intent Williams quoted a 1999 court case Littleton v. Prange (which is only binding in the 4th court of appeals) which put forth the opinion that the sex a person is assigned on their birth certificate is their only legally recognized sex and that there is no way for a person to have an incorrect birth certificate corrected. The "ambiguity" Chelsea references is the conflict between Littleton and the common practice of some counties of denying marriage licenses to transgender Texans and the Family Code.

The idea that this conflict is in anyway ambiguous is ludicrous. When there is a conflict between court precedent and the code the code always supersedes. Likewise if the practice or policy of a county office is in conflict with the code not only does the code supersede, but any employee who denies a marriage license to a person who is legally permitted to have one could be held criminally liable for official oppression.

Stabler reports via Facebook that after this video ends she and Araguz were told to leave Williams' office.

Day 100: Two Important Bills on Senate Intent Calendar

Today is the 100th day of the 82nd regular legislative session of the Texas Legislature. The House will reconvene at 10:00 am, the Senate at 11:00.

Two bills important the the LGBT community are on the Senate "intent calendar" today (a list of bills the Senate intends to vote on): one pretty good bill, and one horrifically maleficent bill. The good bill, SB 205 by Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston), would clarify and expand the student codes of conduct that school districts must adopt. Whitmire's intention is to help schools establish policies and procedures that would prevent bullying before it starts and prevent teen suicide (Read LQ's analysis of SB 205).

On the other hand, SB 723, Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) would effectively ban marriage between two people of the opposite sex if one of the partners is transgender (Read LQ's explanation of SB 723). The bill has been on the intent calendar for the last two days but has not been brought up for a vote. If it is not considered today Williams will have to place it back on the intent calendar for next week. The deadline for doing that is 4:00 pm today.

Senate rules require bills to be considered in the order they are voted out of committee, but the Senate hardly ever follows that rule. Instead they file a bill at the front of the line (called the "blocker bill") and everyone agrees not to vote on it. This means that in order for any bill that was filed after the blocker bill to be considered the Senate must take a vote to "set aside" their own rules and take up the bill "out of order." Senate Rule 22.02 says that the vote to set aside the rules requires a 2/3 majority of the members present. Effectively this requires 2/3 of the Senate to support a bill before it ever comes up for a vote. There are 31 Senators: 12 Democrats and 19 Republicans. In order for a bill to receive the 20 votes it needs to be brought up out of order at least one of the Democrats must support it.

I reported yesterday on the Dallas Voice's Instant Tea Blog that on-line rumors were suggesting Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) who represents much of Dallas' historic "gayborhood" of Oaklawn would break party lines and support the bill. His office has denied the rumors and states that he will vote against SB 723.

So that's 1 down, 11 to go. The biggest concern right now is Sen. Carlos Uresti (R-San Antonio). Uresti sits on the Senate Education Committee, which heard SB 723. He voted "present, not voting" on the committee vote to send SB 723 to the whole Senate for consideration. Because Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Southside Place) was not in the room at the time of the committee vote Uresti could have killed the bill in committee with a "Nay" vote. This doesn't necessarily mean he supports the bill. The Senate is an extremely civil place (particularly when compared with its more raucous sibling, the House); professional courtesy is of the utmost importance. In general, a committee chair will not bring a bill up for a vote unless they are confident that it has sufficient support to pass. If Uresti knew that the bill would pass a vote of the entire committee he may have decided to vote "present, not voting" out of respect for his colleagues' desires.

The good news is that even if Uresti votes "present, not voting" on the vote to take up SB 723 out of order it will still fail if the other Senate Democrats vote against it. In fact, the entire Democratic delegation could vote "present, not voting" and the bill would fail, since there would still be only 19 "yea" votes out of 31 senators present. Likewise Uresti could be absent from the vote, and if the other Democrats hold the line the vote would fail (19 is still less than 2/3 of 30).

Equality Texas has issued an urgent action alert, urging people to e-mail Senator Uresti and tell him to oppose the bill. It is also important that all of the Texas Democratic Senators hear from both constituents and non-constituents telling them to "oppose SB 723." Contact information is available HERE.

HB 1386 (Asher's Law) by Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) will be heard this morning by the House Public Health Committee in their regularly scheduled meeting at 8:00 am. The bill is named after 13 year old Asher Brown who committed suicide last fall after enduring years of abuse and harassment in school. Asher's parents, David and Amy Troung, will testify before the committee. HB 1386 is perhaps the most thoughtful, well considered and comprehensive of the anti-bullying bills passed this session - and is extremely unlikely to pass - mostly because it dares to recognize the existence of queer kids. The bill requires that school districts not discriminate against students on the basis of "the actual or perceived ethnicity, color, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, disability, religion, or national origin of the employee, student, or student's parent." (Yes, it is currently perfectly legal for schools to discriminate against their queer students.) It also, in its introduction, says that:
"youth who have or are perceived to have a certain sexual orientation are subject to pervasive discrimination, bullying, harassment, intimidation, and violence that puts their physical and mental health at risk;"
While the Public Health is probably the most queer-friendly committee in the House right now, Republican members will likely balk at creating the non-discrimination policy, arguing that it creates "special classes" of people. Which is, of course, ridiculous as I have yet to meet a person who does not have a race, a national origin, a gender identity or any of the other attributes included in the policy (other than disability). It's important that the Committee hear from Texans who support this legislation. Please contact the Public health committee and ask them to pass HB 1386 with the non-discrimination policy intact:

House Public Health Committee

Lois Kolkhorst, Chair
(512) 463-0600 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (512) 463-0600 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
Lois.Kolkhorst@house.state.tx.us

Elliott Naishtat, Vice-Chair
(512) 463-0668 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (512) 463-0668 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
Elliott.Naishtat@house.state.tx.us

Carol Alvarado
(512) 463-0732 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (512) 463-0732 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
Carol.Alvarado@house.state.tx.us

Garnet Coleman (HB 1385 author)
(512) 463-0524 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (512) 463-0524 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
Garnet.Coleman@house.state.tx.us

Sarah Davis
(512) 463-0389 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (512) 463-0389 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
Sarah.Davis@house.state.tx.us

Veronica Gonzales
(512) 463-0578 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (512) 463-0578 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
Veronica.Gonzales@house.state.tx.us

Susan King
(512) 463-0718 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (512) 463-0718 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
Susan.King@house.state.tx.us

Jodie Laubenberg
(512) 463-0186 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (512) 463-0186 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
Jodi.Laubenberg@house.state.tx.us

Dr. Charles Schwertner
(512) 463-0309 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (512) 463-0309 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
Charles.Schwertner@house.state.tx.us

Vicki Truitt
(512) 463-0690 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (512) 463-0690 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
Vicki.Truitt@house.state.tx.us

Dr. John Zerwas
(512) 463-0657 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (512) 463-0657 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
John.Zerwas@house.state.tx.us

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

UPDATE: West Will Vote Against Trans-Marriage Ban

Original title: Unconfirmed Reports Indicate West Supports Anti-Trans Marriage Bill
From my article on the Dallas Voice Instat Tea Blog:

"Cristan Williams, the executive director of the Houston Transgender Center, posted a report on Twitter that Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, is planning to vote in favor of Senate Bill 723. As Instant Tea previously reported, SB 723 would remove a court-ordered change of sex from the list of documents that can be used to prove identity when obtaining a marriage license. The bill has the potential to void all opposite-sex marriage in Texas where one partner is transgender.

Williams’ information was based on a report from a Houston-area transgender advocate who called West’s office to encourage him to oppose SB 723 and was told by a staffer that the senator had received a number of calls in support of the bill and would be voting for it. West’s office has not responded to requests that he confirm or deny the report.

SB 723 was originally on the list of bills to be considered on Monday, but the Senate adjourned both Monday and today without voting on it. The bill is now expected to be considered on Wednesday.

West, whose district includes much of the Oak Lawn neighborhood, can be reached at 512-463-0123 or by e-mail at Royce.West@senate.state.tx.us. "

UPDATE: Kelvin Bass, Media Relations for Sen. West, returned my call regarding SB 723. According to Bass: “The Senator was not aware of this bill until reading the Dallas Voice article and had not yet formed an opinion but he will not be supporting the bill.”

Day 99: Trans Marriage, Bullies and More Bullies

Today is the 99th day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. The House reconvenes at 9:00 am, the Senate at 11:00.

SB 723 is still on the "intent calendar" in the Senate. The bill would remove a court-ordered change of "sex" from the list of documents that can be used to prove identity for obtaining a marriage license and would effectively void all marriages between a transgender person and a person of the opposite sex (Read LQ's explanation of why). The Senate will continue to work on the current intent calendar at least for today and tomorrow (they have a "local and uncontested calendar" of noncontroversial bills that is scheduled to be considered on Thursday). There were 63 bills originally on the intent calendar and the Senate dealt with only 9 of them yesterday. Keep calling Senators and telling them to "oppose SB 723."


SB 736 by Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa (D-McAllen) will be heard in the Senate Education Committee this morning at 9:00 am. SB 736 is the companion bill to HB 944 by Rep. Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin) and its text is identical. From LQ's analysis of HB 944:
"[The bill] 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...

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 [the bills do] not dramatically change the current situation, nor would [they] require local school districts to do anything to address the torturous conditions that so many queer kids endure in public schools."
Nevertheless, SB 736 and HB 944 are a step in the right direction.


SB 205 by Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) was voted out of the Senate Education Committee yesterday (the same committee that will hear HB 944 today). Currently school districts must create student codes of conduct which are designed, in part, to discourage bullying. Whitmire's bill specifies requirements for the anti-bullying portions of those codes, while still allowing a great deal of leeway for the district (read LQ's original review of SB 205).

Whitmire offered a "committee substitute" to SB 205. The substitute made very few changes to the original bill: it removed a protection from criminal prosecution for teachers who reported bullying, and it clarified that school districts are to create "policies and procedures" not just policies. The teacher protections were removed due to concerns that they would allow teachers to ignore bullying and harassment for months and then report it after things got out of control and avoid prosecution for neglecting to report abuse of a minor. SB 205 is similar to portions of HB 1942, the House "super bully bill" voted out of committee last week. It does not contain any recognition of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Senate Adjourns Without Debating SB 723

The Texas Senate Adjourned today without hearing Senate Bill 723 which was on the "intent calendar." SB 723 would remove a court ordered change of "sex" from the list of documents that can be used to prove identity for obtaining a marriage license and would effectively void all marriages between a transgender person and a person of the opposite sex (Read LQ's explanation of why).

From LQ's post Day 98:
The Senate rules require that all bills be considered in the order that they are filed. The rules also allow the Senate to ignore that rule if 2/3 of the Senators agree. The list of bills that Senators would like to have considered to be taken out of order is called the "intent calendar." Any Senator may place their bill on the intent calendar, but they generally will not do so unless they are confident that it will pass the 2/3 vote. Since the Senate Republicans are 1 vote short of a 2/3 majority Williams must believe that he has the support of at least one Senate Democrat for SB 723 or he wouldn't have placed it on the intent calendar."
There were 63 bills on the intent calendar today, including SB 723. The Senate got to 9 of them. There is no scheduled calendar for Tuesday or Wednesday so the Senate will continue working down the intent calendar for today. If we are to be successful in killing SB 723 we must keep the pressure on Senate Democrats to oppose the bill. Please call and e-mail them today:

Mario Gallegos (512) 463-0106
mario.gallegos@senate.state.tx.us

Wendy Davis (512) 463-0110
wendy.davis@senate.state.tx.us

Rodney G. Ellis (512) 463-0113
rodney.ellis@senate.state.tx.us

Kirk Watson (512) 463-0114
kirk.watson@senate.state.tx.us

John Whitmire (512) 463-0115
john.whitmire@senate.state.tx.us

Carlos I. Uresti (512) 463-0119
carlos.uresti@senate.state.tx.us

Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (512) 463-0120
juan.hinojosa@senate.state.tx.us

Judith Zaffirini (512) 463-0121
judith.zaffirini@senate.state.tx.us

Royce West (512) 463-0123
royce.west@senate.state.tx.us

Leticia R. Van de Putte (512) 463-0126
leticia.vandeputte@senate.state.tx.us

Eduardo A. (Eddie) Lucio, Jr. (512) 463-0127
eddie.lucio@senate.state.tx.us

José R. Rodríguez (512) 463-0129
Jose.rodriguez@senate.state.tx.us

Day 98: Anti-Trans Marriage Bill and Asher's Law

Today is the 98th day of the 82nd Regular Session of the Texas Legislature. The Senate will reconvene at 11:00 am, the House at 1:00 pm.

SB 723 by Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands), is on the Senate intent calendar today. SB 723 would remove a court ordered "change of sex" from the list of documents that can be presented as proof of identity for obtaining a marriage license and would effectively outlaw opposite-sex marriage for trans Texans (Read LQ's explanation 0f the bill).

The Senate rules require that all bills be considered in the order that they are filed. The rules also allow the Senate to ignore that rule if 2/3 of the Senators agree. The list of bills that Senators would like to have considered to be taken out of order is called the "intent calendar." Any Senator may place their bill on the intent calendar, but they generally will not do so unless they are confident that it will pass the 2/3 vote. Since the Senate Republicans are 1 vote short of a 2/3 majority Williams must believe that he has the support of at least one Senate Democrat for SB 723 or he wouldn't have placed it on the intent calendar. A list of phone numbers for Democratic Senators is here, please take the time to call them and tell them to "oppose SB 723."

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

HB 1386 (Asher's Law) by Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) will be heard in the House Public Health Committee on Wednesday. Coleman's bill is similar to the committee substitute for HB 1942 that passed out of the House Public Education Committee last week, but does not contain the redefinition of "bullying" that will make it harder for victims of bullying to be transferred to different classrooms or campuses than their victims and does contain a non-discrimination policy that protects sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. The bill is named after 13 year old Houstonian Asher Brown who committed suicide last fall after enduring years of bullying and harassment at school. (Read LQ's explanation of the bill).

The Public Health Committee is probably the most LGBT friendly committee in the House this session (which isn't saying much). The four Democratic members of the eleven person committee all have perfect voting records on queer issues and four of the six Republican members have at least some record of voting for the queer community.

The biggest challenge will be getting Chairwoman Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) to understand the need for a non-discrimination policy. Republican ideology holds that enumerating attributes that have historically been the cause of bias creates "special classes" of people and is, in itself, a form of discrimination. This is the core of straight, cisgender privilege: the assumption that only LGB people have a "sexual orientation" and only trans people have a "gender identity or expression" and that everyone else is just normal. Coleman will have the challenge of making the moderate Republicans on the committee, particularly Kolkhorst, understand that the enumerated list in his nondiscrimination policy equality protects all students. Otherwise it is unlikely that the chairwoman will bring HB 1386 up for a committee vote, the next hurdle Coleman must overcome for his bill to become law.

Even if HB 1386 makes it out of committee time is running out for it to pass this session. There are 41 days left in the 82nd legislative session. In those 41 days HB 1386 must not only pass out of committee but must be approved by the entire House, voted out of Senate Committee and pass the Senate. Time is running out and Coleman's bill is behind schedule.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Certified Vote Published for "Family and Traditional Values" Amendment

The certified results on the House vote to accept amendment 143 to House Bill 1 were posted on Friday. Amendment 143 by Rep. Wayne Christian (R-Center) requires state universities that have a center for gender and sexuality to equality fund a "center for family and traditional values." (read LQ's original coverage of the amendment.)

The contingent results of House votes are posted in real time on the Texas Legislative Online. The official results, however, contain important information about why representatives choose to vote the way they did and, in some circumstances, explains that members intended to place a different vote than what was recorded. This was explained in LQ's ongoing series Bipartisan Votes Key to LGBT Legislative Successes:
"In cases of record votes each member of the house uses a voting machine embedded into their desk to record their vote. The machine allows them to vote either 'yea', 'nay' or 'present not voting' for each item before the House.

If a member is away from the House Chamber due to illness, family emergency or similar circumstance they can ask a fellow member to request that the Speaker excuse them, if a vote happens while they are away they are notated as being "Absent-Excused" in the record. Typically a member who is "Absent-Excused" will miss an entire day of votes.

The House often meets for hours on end without breaks. Members must often step out of the chamber the eat meals, meet with constituents or take bathroom breaks. If a member happens to be away from their desk and unable to vote when a record vote is taken they are recorded as being 'absent' from that vote.

So on any vote there are five different ways that a members position could be recorded: Yea, Nay, Present - Not Voting, Absent-Excused and Absent.

The issue is further complicated by a long standing tradition of members voting for each other. Many representatives feel that it is appropriate for them to record a vote on the machine embedded in the desk of a colleague who is absent, obstinately voting in the manner that member would and sparing them a record of being "absent" for a vote. The practice is strictly prohibited by House Rule 5, section 47, but it still happens (and was famously defended by Rep. Debbie Riddle after she was caught, on tape, voting for Rep. Kuempel).

These votes are jokingly referred to as "voting machine malfunctions". The House Rules allow members to enter a statement in the official house record explaining that their voting machine "malfunctioned" and stating how they intended to vote. Members can enter a similar statement if they are absent for a vote and would like a record of their position on the record."
In the case of the vote on Amendment 143 five members entered examinations of how they intended to vote. Rep. Roberto Alonzo (D-Dallas) explained that his voting machine did not register his vote and that he intended to vote "Nay." Rep. Joe Deshotel (D-Port Arthur) and Rep. Mike Villarreal (D-San Antonio) both said that they intended to vote against the amendment, although their voting machine registered their votes as "Yea." Marisa Marquez (D-El Paso) stated that she intended to vote "Nay," but that her machine recorded her as being "present, not voting."

Sarah Davis (R-Houston), the sole Republican shown as voting against the amendment by the uncertified results, stated that she intended to vote for it. This conforms with a statement made by her staffer to Legislative Queery. Davis, who received the endorsement of the Houston Log Cabin Republicans during the campaign, has not responded to requests that she explain her support for the amendment.

The uncertified results showed amendment 143 passing 110 yeas, to 24 nays. If these votes had been recorded as the members intended the vote would have been 109 yeas to 26 nays.

Rep. Rafael Anchia, who voted "present, not voting," did not enter a note in the record. Anchia represents part of the historic "gayborhood" of Oaklawn in Dallas and is historically a staunch ally of the queer community. His chief of staff, Timothy Dickey, told the Dallas Voice:
“He [Anchia] said the PNV [present, not voting] was basically just a, ‘This amendment’s stupid. I’m not even going to grace it with a yes or no. It’s a ridiculous amendment, and that’s what the PNV was. … We’re going to try to talk him out of doing that in the future. A ‘No’ is stronger than a PNV.”

LQ's House scorecard has been updated to reflect the notes entered in the official record.

Legislative Intent and SB 723

Yesterday I wrote that SB 723 had been put on the Senate Calendar for Monday. The bill would remove a court ordered "sex change" from the list of identifying documents that can be used to obtain a marriage license. Since then several LGBT organizations, blogs and publications have joined the call for action.

Disturbingly, some commenters have dismissed the gravity of the situation. It's easy to miss how damaging this bill is since it only deletes three words from the code: "or sex change." Several other identifying documents would still be permitted, such as a passport or drivers license. "If a trans person has the correct sex printed on their other ID," say the naysayers, "they can still get a marriage license."

Technically they are correct. What they miss, however, is the roll that legislative intent plays in the court room. Sen. Tommy Williams, who authored SB 723, has been very clear that his intention is to prevent someone whose original birth certificate assigned them one sex from marrying someone whose original birth certificate assigned them the same sex. In the bill analysis for SB 723 he states
"In a 1999 decision, Littleton v. Prange, by the Fourth Texas Court of Appeals in San Antonio, Chief Justice Phil Hardberger concluded that an individual's sex is decided by biological factors at birth, as indicated on a birth certificate. In Chief Justice Hardberger's opinion regarding the transsexual marriage between two male born men, he stated, 'We hold, as a matter of law, that Christie Littleton is a male. As a male, Christie cannot be married to another male. Her marriage to Jonathon was invalid…'."
By using Littleton to support his bill Williams clarifies that he feels that the sex assigned to someone at birth is, by default, their actual sex and that, regardless of genetics, physiology or personal identity that person can never be legally considered another sex.

Understanding Littleton is the key to understanding the true maleficence of SB 723. The case 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 to guide them in their decisions. If SB 723 becomes law Littleton will, effectively, become binding statewide.

There is very little transgender case law in Texas, and even less legislative history. When the original list of identifying documents was created two years ago by the legislature there was no debate or opposition. The author of the current list, Louis Kolkhorst, later said that she was not aware that a court ordered change of sex was on the list of identifying documents (she authored the House version SB 723 this session (HB 3098)), so there is no documentation of intent from the legislation that created the current list.

In citing Littleton Williams' has laid the ground work for a state-wide policy of refusing to acknowledge that some people are assigned the wrong sex at birth. Considering the current lack of case law or legislative record on the legal status of transgender people in Texas if he is successful his intention in passing SB 723 will become the overriding legal attitude for the entire state. It may even be possible for SB 723 to be used to prevent Texas' courts or agencies from issuing corrected identifying documents like driver's licenses.

So yes, even if SB 723 passes trans people who have a correct drivers license or passport will still be able to marry someone of the opposite sex. But if anyone chooses to challenge the validity of their marriage, as happened to Christie Littleton (and as is currently happening to Nikki Araguz) they will be unable to avail themselves to any of the protections of marriage. What good is a marriage certificate if, when the protections it provides are needed, it will be voided by the courts?

SB 723 is an attack on every trans person in Texas. It must be defeated. Please call these key senators and tell them to "oppose SB 723." If you are unable to call until this weekend call anyway and leave a message. A full voice mail box on Monday morning will go a long way towards helping these senators stand up for what's right.

Mario Gallegos (512) 463-0106
Wendy Davis (512) 463-0110
Rodney G. Ellis (512) 463-0113
Kirk Watson (512) 463-0114
John Whitmire (512) 463-0115
Carlos I. Uresti (512) 463-0119
Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa (512) 463-0120
Judith Zaffirini (512) 463-0121
Royce West (512) 463-0123
Leticia R. Van de Putte (512) 463-0126
Eduardo A. (Eddie) Lucio, Jr. (512) 463-0127
José R. Rodríguez (512) 463-0129

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Anti-Trans Marriage Bill Set For Senate on Monday

SB 723, which seeks to deny transgender Texans the right to marry people of the opposite sex is scheduled for consideration in the Senate on Monday, April 18th. (Read LQ's synopsis of the bill.) In order for a bill to be considered by the Senate two-thirds of Senators must agree to bring it up. The Republicans, who control the Senate, are one vote short of a two-thirds majority, which means that Tommy Williams, who introduced SB 723 believes that at least one of the Democrats in the Senate will vote for it.

It is vital that every Senate Democrat hear from Texans telling them to "oppose SB 723." Please call the Democratic members of the Senate immediately and tell them to stand up for fairness:

Mario Gallegos (512) 463-0106
Wendy Davis (512) 463-0110
Rodney G. Ellis (512) 463-0113
Kirk Watson (512) 463-0114
John Whitmire (512) 463-0115
Carlos I. Uresti (512) 463-0119
Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa (512) 463-0120
Judith Zaffirini (512) 463-0121
Royce West (512) 463-0123
Leticia R. Van de Putte (512) 463-0126
Eduardo A. (Eddie) Lucio, Jr. (512) 463-0127
José R. Rodríguez (512) 463-0129

Day 95: Bullies and Tommy Williams (is that redundant?)

Today is the 95th day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. The Senate reconvened at 8 am, the House will reconvene at 10 am.

SB 205, by Sen. John Whitmire (D - Houston) will be heard this morning in the Senate Education Committee. Currently school districts must create student codes of conduct which are designed, in part, to discourage bullying. Whitmire's bill specifies requirements for the anti-bullying portions of those codes, while still allowing a great deal of leeway for the district (read LQ's original review of SB 205).

Equality Texas reports that SB 723 by Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands), was voted out of the Senate Jurisprudence Committee at a quick meeting at Sen. Harris' desk yesterday. SB 723 would eliminate a court ordered "sex change" from the list of identifying documents acceptable for applying for a marriage license. The bill is a blatant attack on the trans community. The next step will be for the bill to be placed on the intent calendar (a list of bills the Senate "intends" to vote on). Before that happens Williams will want to be sure he has the support of two thirds of the Senators. Because of a quirk of Senate Rules at least two thirds of the Senate must vote to begin debate on a bill. Currently the Republican majority in the Senate is one vote short of having two thirds of the seats. This means that for SB 723 to advance at least 1 Democratic Senator will have to support it.

If you believe that transgender people deserve the same dignity and respect as the cisgender population please call these Democratic Senators and tell them to oppose SB 723:

Mario Gallegos (512) 463-0106
Wendy Davis (512) 463-0110
Rodney G. Ellis (512) 463-0113
Kirk Watson (512) 463-0114
John Whitmire (512) 463-0115
Carlos I. Uresti (512) 463-0119
Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa (512) 463-0120
Judith Zaffirini (512) 463-0121
Royce West (512) 463-0123
Leticia R. Van de Putte (512) 463-0126
Eduardo A. (Eddie) Lucio, Jr. (512) 463-0127
José R. Rodríguez (512) 463-0129

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

House Public Education Committee Passes Bullying Legislation

The House Public Education Committee has "reported favorably" on the committee substitute to HB 1942 by Rep. Diane Patrick (R-Arlington). Technically committees do not pass legislation, but instead issue reports to the whole body on whether the legislation is a good idea, by reporting favorably the committee is recommending that the House pass HB 1942. A "committee substitute" is a way to amend a bill in committee by completely replacing it with another bill on the same topic. In the case of HB 1942 the committee substitute is the result of negotiations by the sub-committee on bullying and incorporates elements of several other bills that have been filed this session.

When compared to HB 242 (The Strama/Davis big bully bill) the committee substitute for HB 1942 (or CSHB 1942) is far less comprehensive. Strama's bill, as originally filed, did four major things:
  • Require that all staff, teachers, parents and students receive training on how to identify and prevent bullying;
  • Allow for the transfer of bullies to different classes/campuses than their victims (currently only the victim may be transferred);
  • allow school administrators to address cyberbullying that takes place off campus if the electronic communication is received on campus or at a school event or if it substantially disrupts school operations; and
  • Require school districts to annually report instances of bullying to the state, enumerating the report by motivating bias including sexual orientation, but not gender identity and expression.
CSHB 1942, in contrast, would:
  • Require that school health curriculums include information on how to "effectively address awareness, prevention, identification, and resolution of and intervention in bullying," but would not require training for staff, teachers or parents (the bill says that districts "may" provide training for teachers, but does not require it);
  • Allow for the transfer of bullies to different classes/campuses than their victims (currently only the victim may be transferred);
  • Allow school administrators to address cyberbullying, but only if it "occurs on school property, at a school-sponsored or school-related activity, or on a vehicle operated by the district;"
  • Not require any state-level reporting on instances of bullying; and
  • Further clarify the requirements of anti-bullying policies schools must adopt in their Student Codes of Conduct.
In addition, CSHB 1942 creates a standard definition for "bullying" for the education code. Currently the education code's definition of bullying is
"'bullying' means engaging in written or verbal expression or physical conduct that a school district board of trustees or the board's designee determines: (1) will have the effect of physically harming a student, damaging a student's property, or placing a student in reasonable fear of harm to the student's person or of damage to the student's property; or (2) is sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive enough that the action or threat creates an intimidating, threatening, or abusive educational environment for a student." (emphasis added)

However, that definition only applies to section 25, which gives school districts the ability to transfer the victims of bullying to other classes or campuses. There are other sections of the education code which talk about bullying, but they do not have their own definitions.

CSHB 1942 fixes this by redefining bullying for the entire code (including Sec 25.0342) as
"bullying" means engaging in written or verbal expression, expression through electronic means, or physical conduct that occurs on school property, at a school-sponsored or school-related activity, or on a vehicle operated by the district and that: (1) has the effect or will have the effect of physically harming a student, damaging a student ’s property, or placing a student in reasonable fear of harm to the student ’s person or of damage to the student ’s property; (2) is sufficiently severe, persistent, and pervasive enough that the action or threat creates an intimidating, threatening, or abusive educational environment for a student; (3) exploits an imbalance of power between the student perpetrator and the student victim through written or verbal expression or physical conduct; and (4) interferes with a student ’s education or substantially disrupts the operation of a school. (emphasis added)
The use of the word "and" in the proposed new definition (instead of the word "or") means that, to be considered bullying, the behavior will have to meet every criteria in the definition. Under this definition if a bully threatens to harm a student in a severe and pervasive way that exploits an imbalance of power and interferes with a student's eduction, but isn't persistent about it, it wouldn't count as bullying. If a bully physically harms a student in a severe, persistent and pervasive way that substantially disrupts the operation of the school, but administrators do not perceive an imbalance of power, it wouldn't count as bullying. The use of the word "and" where previously "or" was used weakens the existent protections in the code.

The next step in the process will be for the "Calendars Committee" to place CSHB 1942 on the House's schedule. The House divides bills into seven calendars, depending on what the bill does. Different calendars are heard on different days and the Calendars Committees determine which bills go on which calendars. The Public Education Committee recommended CSHB 1942 be placed on the General State Calendar, which is reserved for non-emergent bills that have a statewide impact but only effect some citizens (in this case students). CSHB must be debated on the House floor before midnight on May 12 in order to move on to the next step in the process: Senate consideration. Last session similar legislation (HB 1324 by Strama (D-Travis Co)) failed to pass because it didn't make this deadline (for more information read LQ's Anti-Bullying Legislation in Texas Part II).

Once CSHB 1942 reaches the floor there will be an opportunity to amend it. With such a carefully crafted compromise, however, it's likely that Democratic members who find fault with the bill will be encouraged to not attempt to make it better. The best hope for improving this legislation (for instance fixing that whole and/or issue) is for members to speak privately with Rep. Patrick and the bill's co-authors (Shelton, Strama, Eissler and Guillen) about any desired changes before CSHB 1942 reaches the floor. If Patrick is agreeable a "friendly amendment" can be offered to fix any issues without subjecting the bill to prolonged debate which might endanger it.

CSHB 1942 incorporates ideas from a number of bills filed this session, including HB 24, HB 195, HB 224/SB 242, SB 42 and SB 205 and is the result of compromises designed to appease a majority Republican committee and a majority Republican Legislature (10 of the 11 committee members voted in favor of the bill, including 5 Republicans and the bill's principal author, Diane Patrick is a Republican). By removing any recognition of sexual orientation (let alone gender identity and expression) as a motivating bias for bullying, and by removing any suggestion that administrators have a responsibility to respond to off-campus bullying the crafters of this compromise have made it more appealing to the majority of legislators. Although it will likely face some opposition on the floor it is likely to pass, provided that there is still enough time left in the session.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Day 86: Did Davis, S or Didn't Davis, S?

Today is the 86th day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas legislature. The House reconvened at 10 am, the Senate at 11.

On Sunday I wrote that Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston) voted against the budget amendment by Rep. Christian which requires state universities that have a "gender and sexuality center" to also have a "family and traditional values center." I spoke today with a staffer in Davis' office who informed me that Davis, in fact, voted for the amendment and that the uncertified results posted on the Legislature's website were incorrect. The staffer said she was unsure why Davis supported the amendment. I've e-mailed Rep. Davis asking if she feels, as Rep. Christian does, that family and traditional values centers are necessary to provide parity for the resources provided by sexuality and gender centers and how she anticipates universities will find funding for this new mandate created by the legislature. I eagerly await her response.


Four important bills were heard in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee yesterday: HB 1909, which addresses a loophole in the state's "indecency with a child" law that allows straight teenagers to make out with their boyfriends/girlfriends, but not queer ones; HB 2227, which adds "gender identity and expression" the the list of attributes bias against which permits the attachment of "hate crime" enhancements; and HB 604 and HB 2156 which remove Texas' unconstitutional law against "homosexual conduct." For a more detailed account of the hearing please read the article I wrote for the Dallas Voice.


As the session continues to escalate towards it's eventual conclusion the harried schedule is driving staffers and legislative gadflies to acts of abject silliness. In addition to LQ's 'Which member of the Texas House has the most awesome mustache' contest; this site, assigning doppelgangers to Texas legislators, is making the rounds.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Bullying Reporting Requirement Fails for First Time in Six Years

Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) offered an amendment during the April 1st budget debate that would have required school districts to report instances of bullying or harassment enumerated by motivating bias (if any). The required enumeration would have included sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. The amendment (amendment #123 to HB 1) was tabled. 97 House members voted to table the amendment, 49 voted against.

Coleman has offered the same amendment during the last two legislative sessions, both times it passed. In 2007 the amendment passed 77 to 68 [amendment #73 to HB 1] (read LQ's detailed review of the vote). In 2009 it passed on a simple voice vote [amendment #262 to SB 1] (the House rules say that all votes are taken by a simple voice vote, unless someone requests a record vote - generally speaking amendments that pass on a voice vote are noncontroversial).

In both 2007 and 2009 the Coleman amendment was removed by the conference committee. After both the House and Senate approve a version of the budget a committee of House members appointed by the Speaker of the House and Senators appointed by the Lt. Governor meet to find compromises on portions of the budget that differ between their versions. Since, in both cases, the Senate version of the budget did not include the reporting requirement the conference committee was able to remove it.

Why did an amendment that passed during the last two sessions not pass this session?

One reason is that the Republican party made tremendous gains in the Texas House during the November 2010 elections, changing the partisan balance of the House from 76/74 to 101/49 (although two of those changes are due to former Democrats switching parties). The Texas State Republican party has an official plank in their platform calling for the reinforcement of the state's sodomy law. More Republicans in the House means more people voting against the best interest of queer people.

But part of the reason is that six of the members who supported the amendment in 2007 voted against it in 2011: Chuck Hopson, Jim Murphy, Allen Ritter, John Zerwas, Aaron Pena and Larry Taylor - all Republicans (although Pena was a Democrat until this session). Three members who voted against the amendment in 2007 voted for it in 2009: Republicans Geanie Morrison and John Davis and Democrat Ruth McClendon.

I've e-mailed the offices of of the six members who changed their vote to oppose reporting instances of bullying. I eagerly await their response.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Which Member of the Texas House has the Most Awesome Mustache?

Pictures of all the contestants are available below


"Doc" Anderson

Lon Burnam

Garnet Coleman
Joe Deshotel
Joe Driver

Harold Dutton Jr.

Tuffy Hamilton
Rick Hardcastle
Jim Keffer
Borris Miles
Rene Olivera

Ralph Sheffield

Larry Taylor


Day 84: Hearings set for Hate Crimes, "Homosexual Conduct" bills

Today is the 84th day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. The House reconvenes at 1 pm, the Senate at 1:30.

Tomorrow, the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee will hear House Bill 2227 by Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston). The bill would add gender identity and expression to the list of characteristics covered by the state’s hate crime law. Currently, Texas law allows prosecutors to seek tougher penalties for crimes motivated by bias against certain characteristics (or percieved characteristics) of the victim. These characteristics include the race, color, disability, religion, national origin or ancestry, age, gender, and “sexual preference” of the victim, but not the gender identity or expression. Because gender identity and expression is not currently included prosecutors are unable to pursue hate crimes charges if the victim is targeted for being transgender or for behaving in a way that the perpetrator considers gender inappropriate (such as a man being “sissy” or a woman being “butch”).

Coleman has offered this bill in previous sessions, but it never makes it out of committee. Inevitably representatives from far right-wing organizations like the Texas Eagle Forum or the Liberty Institute testify against the bill, claiming that it creates "special rights" for some people that are not enjoyed by others. This opposition seems to miss that, with the exception of "disability," the attributes listed in the current statute are universal. Everybody has a race, everybody has a nation of orgin and everybody has a sexual orientation (even if that orientation is "asexual"). The idea that the hate crimes law create "special rights" is ludicrous. It protects all people from being targeted due to immutable characteristics.

Gender identity and expression belongs in this list. Everyone has a gender identity (even if that identity is non-gendered), and everybody has a gender expression. Additionally, like the other attributes listed GI&E has historically been a reason individuals have been targeted for hate crimes. For the state of Texas to not include it is shameful.

During the same hearing the committee will also hear another one of Coleman’s bills: House Bill 2165, as as well as an identical piece of legislation, House Bill 604 by Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston. The bills would remove the crime of “homosexual conduct” from the Texas Penal Code. The law prohibiting homosexual conduct was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003, making it unenforceable. Only the Texas Legislature has the power to remove the law from the books and lawmakers have, thus far, been unwilling to do so. Similar legislation has been filed every session since the Supreme Court ruling, but has always failed to pass.

Two weeks ago, Criminal Jurisprudence member Wayne Christian (R-Shelby, Nacogdoches, San Augustine, Sabine and Jasper Co) (who on Friday passed an amendment to the budget requiring "family and traditional values centers" for state universities that have gender and sexuality centers), told the Austin American-Statesman that having the law on the books “better reflects the views of a lot of citizens.” Christian’s statement is not surprising considering that last year the Republican Party of Texas (of which he is a member) voted to add renewing enforcement of the homosexual conduct law to its platform. Even Farrar, one of the bills’ author, is pessimistic about its chances, but said that it was important to file the legislation to encourage conversation on the topic: “If nobody files the bill, then nobody talks about [the bill]” she told the Statesmen. “That’s the value of filing bills that may be unpopular because over time you can change peoples’ minds and their hearts.”