Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Worst 10 Texas House Members on LGBT Issues

The 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature has come to an end. It was perhaps the best legislative session for queer Texans ever, but all was not rosy. Along with major victories on anti-bullying legislation and HIV medication assistance programs some truly hateful legislation was introduced. Fortunately all of the anti-LGBT legislation was, by and large, defeated, but it wasn't thanks to these people, the 10 worst members of the Texas House on LGBT issues:

#140 (tie)
Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham)
Score: -4 points
Grade: F-

Having voted for both HB 1386, the teen suicide prevention bill and HB 2229, which makes permanent the Texas HIV Medication Assistance Committee, Kolkhorst has more good votes on the nine votes used in this scoring than any other member of the bottom ten. He authorship of HB 3098, however, insured her a place amongst the worst of the worst. The bill was the House companion to SB 723 and would have, among other things, banned opposite-sex marriage for people who have had their legally recognized sex changed. Fortunately the bill died in committee.
#140 (tie)
Linda Harper Brown (R-Irving)
Score: -4
Grade F-

Harper brown would have managed a perfect set of nine "nay" votes on LGBT issues this session if not for her support SB 2229, which makes permanent the Texas HIV Medication Assistance Committee (although she only voted for it after an amendment allowing a pilot needle exchange program in Bexar county was removed). What really solidified her spot on the bottom ten, however, was her co-authorship of HCR 110 which called on the Obama administration to defend the so-called "defense of marriage act."
#140 (tie)
Four Price (R-Amarillo)
Score: -4 points
Grade: F-


Price has an identical voting record to Harper-Brown and the other House member tied for #140th, Charles Schwertner - it's hard hard to say if they were copying from each other, or just playing from the same Teabagger playbook, but anyone who thinks DOMA is in anyway defensible deserves to be on a worst legislators list.

#140 (tie)
Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown)
Score: -4 points
Grade: F-

See above Re: Harper Brown, Price - Schwertner begrudgingly supported making the HIV Medication Advisory Committee permanent after the needle exchange program amendment was removed, and co-authored HCR 110, how unoriginal.

#144 (tie)
Wayne Christian (R-Center)
Score: -10 points
Grade: F-

Christian manged to be only member of the House to pass anti-LGBT legislation this session with his amendment to require state universities that have LGBT resource centers to equally fund "family and traditional values" centers (the amendment was later removed by the Senate). If not for his "yea" vote on HB 1386, the teen suicide prevention bill, he would have been ranked the worst member in the House, but we have to give the guy some credit for being against teen suicide, right?
#144 (tie)
Erwin Cain (R-Paris)
Score: -10 points
Grade: F-

Cain voted against the best interest of the queer community on all nine of the record votes considered in this ranking. That, combined with his co-authorship of HCR 110 (which would have called on the Obama administration to defend the so-called "defense of marriage act") make his ranking as the third worst House member much deserved.

#144 (tie)
Dan Flynn (R-Canton)
Score: -10 points
Grade: F-

Like Cain (and Taylor and Zedler (below)), Flynn voted against the best interest of the queer community on all nine of the record votes considered in this ranking and was a co-author of HCR 110.
#144 (tie)
Van Taylor (R-Plano)
Score: -10 points
Grade: F-

Like Cain and Flynn (and Zedler (below)), Taylor voted against the best interest of the queer community on all nine of the record votes considered in this ranking and was a co-author on HCR 110.
#144 (tie)
Bill Zedler (R-Arlington)
Score: -10 points
Grade: F-

Like Cain, Flynn and Taylor, Zedler voted against the best interest of the queer community on all nine of the record votes considered in this ranking and was a co-author on HCR 110. Seriously, do these guys call each other the night before to make sure that their votes will match?
#149
Warren Chisum (R-Pampa)
Score: -14 points
Grade: F-

No list of Texas politicians who are bad on LGBT issues would be complete without Warren Chisum, the architect of Texas' version of the so-called "defense of marriage act." Chisum has announced that this will be his last session in the House, but he couldn't leave without throwing a few homophobic punches. Chisum's HB 2636 would have massively expanded the powers of the state Attorney General to interfere in same-sex divorce cases (Chisum himself attempted to interfere in a Dallas same-sex divorce case last year by filing a brief encouraging the judge to declare the divorce illegal). Luckily his attempt to expand the powers of state government died in committee. Only Chisum's support of the Texas HIV Medication Advisory Committee keeps him from taking the throne as the worst House member on LGBT issues.
#150
Paul Workman (R-Austin)
Score: -15
Grade: F-

Workman voted yea for "super" anti-bullying bill HB 1942 on one of the two recorded votes on the bill, that's the only good thing you can say about him. In addition to supporting Christian's attempts to defund campus LGBT resource centers Workman managed to out-Chisum, Chisum by filing HCR 110, which encouraged the Obama administration to defend the so-called "defense of marriage act" in court. Although the legislation would have had no binding effect on the federal government (and was defeated) signing on to it as a co-author became the easiest way this session for House members to prove their homophobic bona fides. Thank you, Paul Workman, you made it much easier to spot the bad guys.

The list of the Top 10 Texas House Members on LGBT Issues was published yesterday. We'll publish the full ranking of the 150 members of the House soon, and are working on a similar ranking of the 31 Senators. You can take a look at how LQ arrived at the scores if you'd like and and tell us what you think. Any ranking system like this naturally involves the biases of the people compiling the list. LQ welcomes comments, suggestions, rants and criticisms regarding the rankings

Day 1: Again

The Texas State Constitution Article 4 Sec. 8(a) allows the Governor to call a special session of the legislature in "extraordinary occasions," even allowing him to convene it away from the capitol in cases of enemy occupation or plague. In recent years, rather than respond to emergent catastrophe, special sessions have been used to deal with legislation that simply wasn't gotten around to during the regular 140 session (or to draw highly partisan congressional redistricting maps).

Although the Legislature yesterday adjourned "Sine Die," Latin for "without a day" or "we don't know when we'll be back," everyone knew that the special session would start today. Last night Governor Rick Perry made that official by Proclamation 16212, calling the Legislature back for a special session. During special sessions legislation is limited to the issues for which the Governor called the session and Perry choose two issues he'd like to see completed: the "fiscal matters" bill which compliments the budget and details appropriations for public schools and universities and a series of bills related to "health care costs containment" and "Medicare services" which cut access to health care services for low-income people and attempt to bypass provisions of Health Care reform legislation passed by the United States Legislature last year. Perry can add issues to this list later in the special session and is expected to, at the very least, add two additional items: the renewal of the Texas Windstorm Insurance program and congressional redistricting.

Because all legislation during this special session will be limited to those provisions bills that died this session that are unrelated can not be brought back up. For instance SB 723 the anti-trans marriage bill is unrelated to any of the topics for which the special session was called and is therefor non-germane, conversely HB 604 the proposal to finally strike Texas' unconstitutional "homosexual conduct" law is also out of bounds.

There are two amendments which were offered to HB 1 on the House floor which could potentially find new life during the special session. The first, by Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), would have prevented public schools that receive state funds from discriminating on the basis of a long list of attributes that included sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. The second, by Wayne Christian (R-Center) would have required Texas Universities that use state funds for campus LGBT resource centers to equally fund "family and traditional values centers." Because both amendments deal state funds spent on public education both could be attached to legislation considered during the special session.

The rules are different during a special session, mostly in that the process moves much more quickly. Layout rules that require committees to give five days notice before public hearings, for instance, are gone; as is the Senate's practice of using the intent calendar to require 2/3 of Senators to agree to debate bills. Special sessions move quickly and the queer community will need to pay careful attention to be sure we're not run over.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Top 10 Texas House Members on LGBT Issues

The 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature has come to an end. It was perhaps the best legislative session for queer Texans ever with not one, but two anti-bullying bills passing and the HIV Medication Advisory Committee's future protected by statute. Multiple bills and amendments targeting the community were introduced but were all defeated. Although we didn't get everything we needed, and are still waiting for the Governor's signature on the three bills mentioned above, all in all it was a very good session for LGBT issues.

We here at Legislative Queery have crunched the numbers and ranked the 150 members of the Texas House based on their votes and authored legislation from the 82nd regular session, the rankings do not take into consideration past votes or legislation or public statements by the elected officials, you can read how we arrived at the rankings HERE.

#1Garnet Coleman (D-Houston)
Score: 126 points
Grace: A+

Coleman's district includes about half of Houston's historic "gayborhood" of Montrose, so it's no surprise that he voted in the best interests of the queer community for all nine of the record votes considered in these rankings. What put him over the top was authoring seven pro-LGBT bills or amendments this session including HB 1386, his teen suicide prevention bill and HB 2229 which makes permanent the Texas HIV Medication Advisory Committee, both of which passed out of the Legislature and await the Governor's signature. Coleman also authored legislation that would equalize the current hetro-only defense to prosecution for indecency with a child if the contact is consensual and the partner is within 3 years of age and a bill that would would add gender expression and identity to current list of attributes bias against which can trigger hate crimes prosecution. Additionally he joint authored a bill that would have required School Health Advisory Councils to issue reports on bullying.

#2Elliott Naishtat (D-Austin)
Score: 101 points
Grade: A+

New York native Naishtat's district includes the University of Texas at Austin, which may explain the bill he's introduced for the last several sessions to allow Texas Universities to remain competitive by offering health benefits to the unmarried partners of professors and their children. Naishtat was the author or co-author of five additional pieces of legislation that would benefit the LGBT community including HB 1942, the "super" anti-bullying bill; both the House and Senate versions of legislation that would require School Health Advisory Councils to issue reports on bullying and HB 2229,which makes permanent the Texas HIV Medication Advisory Committee.

#3Carol Alvarado (D-Houston)
Score: 100 points
Grade: A+

Alvarado was the principle author of HB 130, the elegant approach to fighting bullying that would have created a statewide anti-bullying hotline (the bill unfortunately died in the House Human Services Committee). She also has the distinction of joint and co-authoring more LGBT friendly bills than any other member of the House including 4 designed to combat bullying and its effects (HB 24, HB 224, HB 1386 and HB 1942).

#4 (tie)
Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin)
Score: 97 points
Grade: A

Dukes carried both the House and Senate versions of a bill that, in its original form, would have required Local Community Health Advisory Councils to create recommendations on the anti-bullying portions of health class curricula. Unfortunately that portion of the bill was removed before the House voted on it (the bill, SB 736, now awaits the Governor's signature).

#4 (tie)
Jessica Farrar (D-Houston)
Score: 97 points
Grade: A

Farrar is chair of the House Democratic Caucus, but her duties don't stop her from being a passionate advocate of the LGBT community. Farrar is the author of legislation that would have finally removed Texas' unconstitutional law against "homosexual conduct." She also joint authored Coleman's teen suicide prevention bill, playing a pivotal role in its passage. During the Equality Texas Lobby Day back in March, Farrar personally welcomed citizen lobbyists to her office offering them snacks and telling them they were "wasting their time" at her office, since she was already such a committed supporter.

#6
Mark Strama (D-Austin)
Score: 96 points
Grade: A

This session marked Strama's third attempt to pass anti-bullying legislation. Although he was unsuccessful in passing his HB 224, major elements of the bill were included in HB 1942, of which he was a co-author. Although the legislation does not include any specific reference to sexual orientation or gender identity and expression Stama's advocacy on behalf of the victims of bullying is laudable.

#7
Armando Walle (D-Houston)
Score: 95 points
Grade: A

Walle was coauthor of Coleman's teen suicide prevention bill, SB 1386. He also joint authored an excellent piece of legislation by Raphael Anchia (D-Dallas) that, if it had passed, would have allowed adoptive parents in same-sex relationships to receive accurate birth certificates for their children by allowing both parents names to be on the certificate.

#8 (tie)
Eric Johnson (D-Dallas)
Score: 93
Grade: A

Tied for highest ranking freshman on the list (and the highest ranking Dallas-area rep), Johnson has proved himself an able ally. His district includes a small sliver of the historic "gayborhood" of Oaklawn which might explain why Johnson co-authored both Strama's anti-bullying bill (that included sexual orientation) and the eventual compromise "super" anti-bullying bill HB 1942.

#8 (tie)
Ron Reynolds (D-Missouri City)
Score: 93 points
Grade: A

The only member of the top 10 not based in a major metropolis, Reynolds, who's tied for highest ranking freshman on the list, proved himself to be a keen ally in the fight to end bullying. He co-authored both Strama's anti-bullying bill (that included sexual orientation) and the eventual compromise "super" anti-bullying bill HB 1942.

#10 (tie)
Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth)
Score: 91 points
Grade: A

Burnam is a sleeper ally, known for being willing to fight for what's right (even when it's politically unpopular), Burnam knows that his reputation as the most liberal member of the Texas House means that sometimes his early support for legislation can scare off more moderate members. This is why he waited until late in the process to add his name as a co-author to anti-bullying "super" bill HB 1942. (full disclosure: the author is a former aide to Burnam)

#10 (tie)
Joe Farias (D-San Antonio)
Score: 91 points
Grade: A

Farias has served in the House since 2007 and is on the powerful Local and Consent Calendars Committee. Although not the most vocal member of the House his co-authorship of anti-bullying "super" bill HB 1942 and his quiet habit of consistently voting in the best interest of the LGBT community make him a valuable ally.

#10 (tie)
Borris Miles (D-Houston)
Score: 91 points
Grade: A

Miles is plain spoken and known for fighting hard for what he believes, attributes that have served him well in the 82nd legislature. he was a co-author on HB 1942 the anti-bullying "super" bill and can be counted on to consistently vote in the best interest of the queer community.

#10 (tie)
Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston)
Score: 91 points
Grade: A

The only member of the top ten to not score perfectly on the nine votes included in the rankings, Thompson made up for it by authoring HB 905 which would have allowed people legally recognized as un-married to enter into gestational agreements with surrogate mothers (currently only married people may) and by carrying SB 205 in the House, which would have expanded and clarified the anti-bullying requirements of school's student codes of conduct. Thompson's one errant vote was on anti-bullying "super" bill HB 1942 and likely had more to do with amendments added by Rep. David Simpson than with any objection to the bill.

That's the top ten, well thirteen. We'll publish the rest of the list soon, but in the meantime take a look at how LQ arrived at the scores and tell us what you think. Any ranking system like this naturally involves the biases of the people compiling the list. LQ welcomes comments, suggestions, rants and criticisms regarding the rankings.

UPDATE: The list of the Worst 10 Texas House Members on LGBT Issues is up.

House Recognizes Warren Chisum, Architect of the Texas "Defense of Marriage Act"

Warren Chisum, the man behind the Texas version of the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act," who this session authored HB 2628 (a bill that, if it had become law, would have dramatically expanded the powers of the Texas Attorney General to interfere in same-sex divorce cases), was honored this afternoon by the Texas House. The House passed HR 2227, "Commending the Honorable Warren Chisum for his many years of outstanding public service."

Chisum, who has served in the House since 1989, is leaving the legislature to seek higher office. It is not uncommon for the House to pass resolutions honoring long serving members, and I don't find it particularly upsetting that they've chosen to so honor Chisum. What does upset me is this excerpt from the text of the resolution:
"Warren Chisum married his high school sweetheart, Omega, in 1957, and the couple will celebrate their 54th wedding anniversary in October 2011; the proud parents of two children, Jeff and Kim, they have been additionally blessed with six grandchildren, and their family has grown to include a fourth generation;"
For the man who spent his 22 year legislative career insuring the relationships and families of queer Texans would not be recognized to be congratulated for his long marriage is a slap in the face of the entire LGBT community. More shocking still, not one person in the 150 member house was able to identify this cruel irony. Instead the resolution passed unanimously.

House, Senate Score Cards Updated

Legislative Queery's House and Senate score cards have been updated. The score cards show how elected officials voted on specific issues important to the queer community (or in a few cases in the House how they intended to vote per their comments in the House journal). These scorecards are provided as a shorthand way of understanding how lawmakers voted. Any vote involves nuances that can not be conveyed through a simple scoring system. If you question why an elected official voted a certain way please call them to ask.

House Score Card

Senate Score Card

Anti-Gay Letter Attacks Annise Parker

Wilson's 2009 flyer
(click for full size)
It was only a matter of time really: Dave Wilson is sending anti-gay letters to Houstonians attacking Annise Parker.

Wilson, you may remember, is the homophobic electrician who sent 35,000 flyers to Houston homes during the 2009 elections with a picture of Parker's swearing in for her previous position as City Comptroller, her partner Kathy Hubbard at her side. The 2009 flyer asked the question "Is this the image Houston wants to portray?" To which Houston voters resoundingly replied "YES!"

Wilson's latest attack is on a much smaller scale than his full color assualt from 2009: a personal letter sent to Parker's donors and Houston Democratic precinct chairs. The letter, dated May 27th, reads:
Dear Sir of Madam,

Annise Parker and her campaign manager want you to think that sexual orientation does not matter. IT DOES.

Being homosexual is one thing, but using your position of power to promote the homosexual agenda is quite another. In her first term as Mayor, Ms. Parker has appointed a transvestite to be a municipal judge (Phyllis Frye). She has signed an executive order that allows men dressed as women to use the women’s restroom (#1-8 Revised). She has carved out a new council district for homosexuals (District “C”).

I have family members and friends who have been ensnarled and trapped in homosexual behavior, and I know firsthand of the incredible pain and sorrow it has brought to them and their families. Religious freedom will be stifled and millions more will be trapped as the demand for legal and political approval for homosexual behavior increases.

I realize that some of you support Ms. Parker’s alternative lifestyle and agree with her promoting the homosexual agenda. But to those of you who do not, I would ask you to help me stop the promoting of the homosexual lifestyle in Houston.

It is the health, or corruption, of the moral imagination that is the most important factor in determining the future of our city. If we want to save our city we must c
hange the direction of the moral and cultural compass that guides us.

Do we lack the courage and character to pursue and implement the wisest of ideas that promote a wholesome, righteous, and godly city for our children to grow up in? I HOPE NOT!

Please join me in recruiting a capable person to challenge Ms. Parker for Mayor.

Sincerely,


David B. Wilson

Wilson's 2011 letter
(click for full size)
Is commentary even needed? Beyond the gross inaccuracy of calling the Hon. Phyllis Frye a "transvestite," (Frye identifies as transgender and is legally recognized by the State of Texas as female) Wilson completely misrepresents Parker's executive order insuring that women may use the women's room and men may use the men's room regardless of what gender other people might assign them.

It may be easy to dismiss the letter as the ravings of a bigoted crank, but Wilson puts his money where his mouth is (he was a major donor to Parker's 2009 runoff opponent Gene Locke), and he has the influence to pull other donors with him. According to Noel Freeman over at Boots on the Bayou four candidates have officially entered the Mayor's race: Parker, Bryan Carr (who, as a non-Houston resident is ineligible), Fernando Herrera (who ran an unsuccessful Republican campaign in 2010 to unseat Jessica Farrar in the Texas House) and Kevin Simms. Expect Wilson to pick his favorite challenger in the next couple of months and start funneling money that way. Once that happens the question will be if Wilson's favorite will keep the money (as Locke did in 2009), or refuse it.

Day 140: Sine Die

Today is the 140th and final day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. The House will reconvene at 10 am, the Senate at 10:30 am.

A wave of developments over the weekend make a special session all but guaranteed. Late Saturday night news broke that the closed-door negotiations on renewing the Texas Windstorm Insurance program had broken down. TWI is the insurer of last resort for people living in areas prone to hurricanes that are unable to obtain insurance through private companies. The program is set to expire this year. If TWI is not renewed many homeowners along the coast will not be able to obtain windstorm insurance.

The House approved the compromise version of HB 1, the state budget, on Saturday, the Senate on Sunday, but SB 1811, a fiscal matters bill that complements the budget went down in the most spectacular fashion Sunday night. SB 1811 became a vehicle for a number of other fiscal matters bills that died in the House, including one that determines funding formulas for public education, perhaps the single most controversial topic of the session. Republican lawmakers have pushed a school funding formula that cuts current public education spending by 4 billion, while preserving tax breaks for industry. Democratic lawmakers have fought hard to restore education funding but their reduced numbers in both chambers have proved impediments.

Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) filibustered SB 1811 until late Sunday night, effectively killing the bill. Davis is a first term Senator who won a historically Republican district on the strength of the "Obama Surge" in the 2008 election. Legislative districts are redrawn every 10 years in response to the census, making 2011 a redistricting year. Senate Republicans have redrawn Davis' district to cut her out of her district, making her re-election unlikely. With nothing to lose Davis choose to spend what might be her last legislative session fighting for children, killing SB 1811 and ensuring a special session. (Technically a 4/5 majority of the Senate (or 25 Senators) could revive SB 1811 today, but that is unlikely.)

The Texas Constitution allows the Governor to call a special session to allow the Legislature to address emergent issues, or to consider business not completed during their regular 140 day session. Any special session is limited to the issues for which it was called, so if Governor Perry calls back the legislature to consider TWI and public education funding, those are the only things they will be able to consider.

While forcing school finance to be decided in a special session is a good thing for Texas' students in general, it puts queer students at public universities at risk. Wayne Christian (R-Center) has tried to amend multiple bills to prevent Texas universities from having GLBT resource centers. He was originally successful in amending HB 1, the state budget, but his amendment was removed by the Senate. If a special session is called to consider public education funding, which seems likely, he will have another opportunity to offer his amendments, and another opportunity to deprive queer college students of a much needed resource.

When the House and Senate Adjourn today they will do so "Sine Die," a Latin phrase meaning "without a day." In Texan it's pronounced "Sigh-nee Dye-ee," and means that the date for the 82nd legislature to reconvene is unknown. Perry can set the special session to begin pretty much whenever he wants, including tomorrow. It is likely that he will announce the official date today, shortly after the final adjournment of both Houses.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

WATCH: Miss T Attacks Sexist Lobbying

In 1999 I attended a public hearing on the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act. Rep. Senfronia Thompson was the author of that bill and her passionate arguments in support of that legislation are part of what inspired me to get involved in the legislative process in the first place.

Thompson, affectionately known as 'Miss T,' delivered an impassioned speech this afternoon on the House floor in response to two flyers distributed by the Texas Civil Justice League. Be sure to watch through to the end.

House Concurs with Senate Amendments to HB 1386

The Texas House of Representatives has voted, 111 to 32, to concur with amendments made by the Senate to HB 1386. The bill instructs the Texas Department of State Health Services to develop resources designed to prevent teen suicide, including mental health counseling, crisis prevention tools and suicide prevention eduction. Schools would then have the option of implementing those programs, but would not be required to do so.

The Senate made two changes to the bill, adding licensed marriage counselors to the list of mental health professionals schools could hire and requiring parents to be informed before their children receive any kind of mental health counseling or screening.

The bill must now be signed by both the Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor, a mere formality, before being sent to the Governor's desk. The Governor has 30 days to sign or veto the bill. If he does not sign the bill it becomes law without his signature. Governor Perry has not indicated his intentions regarding HB 1386 but opposition is not anticipated.

Day 136: Suicide Prevention Bill Approaches Another Hurdle

Today is the 137th day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. The House returns from recess at 10:00 am, the Senate reconvenes at 10:30.

HB 1386 by Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), is eligible for concurrance at 12:50 pm in the House. The bill instructs the Texas Department of State Health Services to develop resources designed to prevent teen suicide, including mental health counseling, crisis prevention tools and suicide prevention eduction. Schools would then have the option of implementing those programs, but would not be required to do so.

After passing the House 107 to 39 the bill went to the Senate Education Committee for consideration. The committee made a key change to the bill. Originally HB 1386 allowed students to avail themselves of counseling services offered by their school anonymously, just as adults can receive counseling without other people knowing. The Senate changed that provision to require that parents be informed and consent to their child receiving counseling or other services. This change creates a delay in the provision of services as parents must first be contacted and their permission gained, and institutes a road block toward receiving services for students who might not want their parents to know they are having suicidal thoughts or are struggling with issues of gender or sexuality.

Because the Senate changed the bill the House must concur with the changes. House rules require that Senate amendments to House bills and an analysis of their effect be distributed to House members 24 hours before the vote to concur occurs. The Senate amendments were distributed yesterday at 12:35 pm, the analysis at 12:38 pm. If the House does not concur a "conference committee" of 5 House members (appointed by the Speaker of the House) and 5 Senators (appointed by the Lieutenant Governor) will be formed to work out a compromise.

Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) promised (in a shocking display of poor taste) that he was making a "suicide pact" with his fellow Senators that if a conference committee is formed the changes made by the Senate would remain in the bill. Considering the resoluteness of the Senate and the rapidly approaching end of session it seems likely that the House will simply concur and send a less than perfect, but still good, bill to the Governor's desk for signing.

UPDATE: The House has concurred with Senate Amendments to HB 1386, more info HERE.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Day 135: We've Only Got Five Days to Save the Session

Today is the 136 day day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. The Senate returns from recess at 9 am, the House at 10 am.

Both the House and Senate had very late nights last night. The House was racing to meet it's midnight deadline to hear Senate Bills on second reading, other than those on the local and consent calendar. The state constitution requires that bills be "read" on three different days in both chambers (they don't actually read the entire bill, just the bill number and a short description). After the first reading bills are sent to one of the House committees for consideration, then, if the committee recommends the bill, they are read a second time on the House floor after which they are debated and a vote is held. House rules create several deadlines for different kinds of bills to reach each step of the process. When midnight rolled around last night cheers rang out from the exhausted members.

The Senate stayed up late trying to find solutions to problems created by the House. On Monday SB 1581, the secondary and higher education fiscal matters bill, was killed by a point of order on the House floor. The bill contains additional instructions on how schools and universities in Texas are funded. If the Senate can not find a way to attach the substantive provisions of SB 1581 to other legislation the legislature will likely be forced to to come back for a "special session" later this summer to address the issue.

The state constitution gives the Governor the power to call back the legislature for a special session if there are pressing state matters which must be attended. The provision is designed to allow the legislature to address emergency situations like natural disasters or massive economic collapse, but in the modern era it has most often been used when the 140 day session clock ran out and important business had not been completed (or to conduct highly partisan redistricting). Every special session is limited to specific issues, in this case it would be school funding, and no matter outside of the stated issue may be considered.

State ethics laws prohibits campaigning or fundraising for campaigns while the legislature is in session. The Republicans face several very tough reelection campaigns, particularly for their 32 freshman members. This summer will be a key period for campaign fundraising as candidates attempt to amass war chests large enough to scare off primary opponents and serious Democratic challengers. Senate and House Republicans will be working very hard of the next 5 days to ensure that a special session is avoided.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

House Concurs with Senate Amendments to HB 1942

The Texas House of Representatives has concurred with Senate amendments to HB 1942. The bill, by Diane Patrick (R-Arlington), is an amalgamation of several anti-bullying bills filed this year. The House Public Education Committee forged a compromise out of the least controversial elements of those bills and rewrote HB 1942 to reflect that compromise. The bill passed out of the House with broad bi-partisan support. The Senate made some minor changes, including protections for students receiving special education services and cleaning up some tortured syntax in the bills definition of bullying.

The bill must now be signed by both the Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor, a mere formality, before being sent to the Governor's desk. The Governor has 30 days to sign or veto the bill. If he does not sign the bill it becomes law without his signature. Governor Perry has not indicated his intentions regarding HB 1942 but opposition is not anticipated.

Day 134: Last Day For Senate Bills in the House

Today is the 135th day of the 82nd session of the Texas Legislature. The House reconvenes and the Senate returns from recess at 9:00 am.

It was a red-letter day for Equality Texas yesterday. Two of the bills on their legislative agenda, HB 1942 by Diane Patrick (R-Arlington) and HB 1386 by Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) were passed by the Senate. Both bills are designed to give schools tools to combat bullying and teen suicide. The House must now concur with changes the Senate made to the bills. HB 1942, which passed first, is on the "items eligible" calendar in the House, a list of bills passed by the Senate on which the House must take action. House rules require that members have 24 hours to review Senate amendments before the vote to concur takes place. Since the amendments to HB 1942 were distributed to House members late last night it is not eligible for consideration until 9:20 this evening. The amendments for HB 1386 have yet to be distributed, that will likely happen today.

Today is the last day the House can consider Senate Bills on second reading. The state constitution requires that bills be "read" on three separate days in both the House and Senate. (they don't actually read the whole bill, just the bill number and a short description called the "caption.") After first reading in the House the bill is referred to one of the House committees. If the committee likes the bill and recommends it to the House the bill is then read a second time, after which the entire House may debate it and vote on it. If the bill passes it is then read for the third time, debated and voted on again. (There's an exception to today's deadline - bills on the "local and consent calendar," a list of noncontroversial bills that received unanimous support in committee, don't have to be considered on second reading until tomorrow).

Unfortunately SB 205 by John Whitmire (D-Houston) is not on the schedule for today, nor is SB 66 by Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo). SB 205 would have expanded and clarified the requirements of school districts student codes of conduct in relation to anti-bullying policies. SB 66 would have closed a loophole that prevents school districts from expelling students who transferred to the district in the same academic year, even for egregious behavior problems. Portions of SB 205 were included in HB 1942, but it's a shame to see these two bills die so close to the finish line.

Wayne Christian (R-Center), who previously amended HB 1 (the budget) to include a provision requiring Texas universities that have LGBT resource centers to equally fund "family and traditional values centers," is rumored to be looking for a Senate bill he can similarly amend. Christian's amendment to the budget was removed by the Senate. He prefiled an identical amendment, and one that would prohibit LGBT resource centers from being housed in state buildings, to SB 1811, one of a series of "fiscal matters" bills that compliment the budget. SB 1811 was debated by the House last Friday, when the debate went past midnight Simpson and several other members withdrew amendments dealing with education on the assumption that they could be added to SB 1581, another fiscal matters bill that deals specifically with education funding. Yesterday SB 1581 came up on second reading in the House but was killed by a "point of order" (an objection that the bill was not considered win accordance with the rules of the House).

If Christian is looking for another vehicle for his amendments SB 8, which is on today's schedule, may be his last chance. It's one of the last "fiscal matters" bills still waiting for House approval, but it deals with Health Care - a very different subject than education. If Christian offers his amendments to SB 8 they should be very susceptible to a point of order based on House Rule 11 Sec. 2 which requires amendments to be on the same subject as the original bill.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Teen Suicide Prevention Bill Passes Senate

HB 1386, the teen suicide prevention bill by Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) has passed the Texas Senate on a 28 to 3 vote. The bill instructs the Texas Department of State Health Services to develop resources designed to prevent teen suicide, including mental health counseling, crisis prevention tools and suicide prevention eduction. Schools would then have the option of implementing those programs, but would not be required to do so.

The Senate Education Committee made some substantial changes to the bill the House sent over, most notably adding provisions that prohibit a child from seeking counseling without their parent's knowledge. For queer teens who may not be out to their parents this is a particularly cruel change that may prevent some kids who need help from seeking it. Since the Senate version of the bill is different than the House version the House must concur with the changes. If they do not a "conference committee" of 5 House members (appointed by the Speaker of the House) and 5 Senators (appointed by the Lieutenant Governor) will be formed to to work out a comprimise between the two versions.

When he laid out the bill in the Senate Rodney Ellis (D-Houston), the bill's Senate sponsor, made what he called a "suicide pact" with the rest of the Senate to oppose any attempt by the conference committee to allow students to receive anonymous counseling. By tradition the Senate sponsor of House bills is one of the chairs of the conference committee so Ellis will be in a position to keep his pact.

Considering Ellis' commitment (however much his choice of words may be in poor taste) and the ticking clock of a session that has less than a week left in it Coleman may choose to simply concur with the changes the Senate made and send the bill to the Governor's desk for signing.

Anti Bullying "Super" Bill HB 1942 Passes Senate

In an unanimous vote the Texas Senate has passed HB 1942, the anti-bullying "super" bill crafted by the House Public Education Committee. The bill must now go back to the House for concurrence before traveling to the Governor's desk. The Governor has 30 days to either sign or veto the bill. If he does not sign it the bill becomes law anyway. If he vetoes the bill he can be overruled by the legislature but since he has 30 days to make a decision he can simply wait until the legislative session ends next Monday if he wants his veto to stick. Since the Legislature can only overrule a veto when they are in session there is no way for them to act on a veto that occurs after the last day.

There has been no indication by the Governor's office that he intends to veto the bill.

Day 134: Final Push for Bully Bills in Senate

Today is the 134th day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. The Senate reconvenes at 10 am, the House at 11.

Today's Senate intent calendar has two bills designed to address school bullying and youth suicide: HB 1942 by Diane Patrick (R-Arlington) and HB 1386 by Garnet Coleman (D-Houston). The intent calendar is list of bills Senators plan to bring up for a vote by having 2/3 of the Senators (or 21) agree to debate the bill.

Patrick's bill is an amalgamation of ideas from a number of anti-bullying bills sent to the House Public Education Committee. The Committee formed a sub-committee which forged the least controversial ideas into a "super bill," the authors the component bills then all signed on as co-authors of HB 1942. The bill was also on the intent calendar last Friday and Saturday but was not brought up for a vote.

Coleman's bill would allow school districts to work in cooperation with other state agencies to provide counseling and other services to youth at risk of suicide and to provide education to administrators and teachers on how to identify at risk youth. It does not require school district to take any action but provides resources to those who wish to address the issue. This is it's first day on the Senate's Intent Calendar.

It's vital that Senators hear from constituents telling them to support HB 1942 and HB 1386. Equality Texas has set up an easy to use form e-mail generator here. You can find the phone number for your Senator here. You can find the phone and fax numbers for all of the Senator's here.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

SB 723 Finally Dead

Saturday afternoon, a little after four o'clock, when Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst announced from the Senate podium that "the president's desk is clear," SB 723 (the zombie-like bill threatening the trans community of Texas) finally, and truly, died.

The bill was filed back on February 15th by Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands), and deletes three words from Family Code Sec. 2.005: "or sex change." Sec. 2005 of the Family Code contains a long list of documents that can be used to prove a person's identity when they apply for a marriage license, including a "court order relating to the applicant's name change or sex change." The current list of acceptable documents was created in 2009 by HB 3666. At the time the list was noncontroversial, there was no debate and no opposition. The lack of controversy, however, seems to have been due to no one actually reading HB 3666, including the bill's author Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham). Kolkhorst was so shocked by her own momentary lapse into decency that she filed the House companion to SB 723 this year: HB 3098.

By removing those three words Williams hoped to make Littleton v. Prange, a 1999 case out of San Antonio, the binding case law for all of Texas. Littleton involved a 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 her original birth certificate said that she was male and she was therefore “genetically male”, and her marriage invalid. (The court did not conduct genetic testing in ruling Mrs. Littleton "genetically male.") 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).

Of course all of that was before Kolkhorst changed the Family Code. Code trumps court precedent every time, and Littleton was only ever binding in the 4th court of appeals, a 32 county area around San Antonio, so courts in the rest of the state where never obligated to follow Hardberger's opinion. Having a state law that could allow Texans who had changed their legally recognized sex to marry people of the opposite sex apparently didn't sit well with Williams (who, incidentally, voted for the change to Sec. 2.005 of the family code in 2009, but seems to have not read what he voted for).

On March 22 the Senate Jurisprudence Committee received public testimony on SB 723. Seven people representing three organizations (Equality Texas, The Transgender Foundation of America and The Texas Transgender Education Network) testified against the bill. No one testified in favor of SB 723. In explaining his bill Williams explained that he felt it was necessary to pass SB 723 to protect the "sanctity of marriage" from gay activists who sought to redefine it.

The bill remained in in Committee until April 13, when the committee gathered at chairman Chris Harris' (R-Arlington). The initial vote was 3 in favor (Republicans Harris, Robert Duncan (Lubbock) and John Carona (Dallas)), 2 opposed (Democrats Jose Rodriguez (El Paso) and Mario Gallegos (Houston)) and one present, not voting (Democrat Carlos Uresti (San Antonio)). Joan Huffman (R-Southside Place) was absent from the initial committee vote. If, at that time, Uresti had voted nay instead of present not voting the vote would have been 3 to 3 and the bill would have failed to be voted out of committee. Huffman later arrived and the eventual vote was 4 to 2 with Uresti voting present, not voting.

The next day, Thursday, April 14th, Williams placed SB 723 on the Senate's "intent calendar" for the following Monday, April 18th. Senate rules require that bills be considered in the order they are voted out of committee, but the Senate rarely follows this rule. Instead the use a loophole in their rules that allows 2/3 of the 31 Senators to vote to "set aside" the rules and bring a bill up out of order. The intent calendar is a list of bills that Senators intend to bring up out of order. Currently the Senate has 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats which means that in order for a bill to be brought up out of order at least 1 Democrat must support it.

As soon as the bill was placed on the intent calendar action alerts were sent out by the Transgender Foundation of America, the National Center for Transgender Equality and the Texas Transgender Education Network urging people to call, fax and e-mail the 12 Senate Democrats and demand that they oppose SB 723. Those alerts were soon echoed by alerts from the Human Rights Campaign, Equality Texas, Equality Across America, Get Equal, Equality March Texas and numerous other LGB and T activist groups across the state and nation. Over the weekend of April 16th and 17th thousands of people - gay, straight, trans, cis - of every political stripe and affiliation - deluged the Democratic Senator's offices with a single message: "oppose SB 723." A staffer for one of the Senators told me that it took her over two hours on Monday morning to retrieve the phone messages left for her boss over the weekend.

SB 723 remained on the intent calendar through out that next week. Queer activists carefully monitored the Senate and responded to every hint that one of the Senators might support the bill. When a staffer for Royce West told a Houston area pastor that he would support SB 723 his office was deluged with calls and e-mails. Within hours of the initial alert his office issued a statement that would not support the bill. Uresti remained a question mark throughout the process. If he maintained his present, not voting position from committee SB 723 would not have enough votes to be brought up from the intent calendar, if he switched his vote to "yea" it would likely pass. Uresti refused to state his position on the record.

On Friday, April 22 trans Texans breathed a sigh of relief when it was announced that SB 723 has been removed from the Intent Calendar. The bill remained on the Senate's general calendar (a list of bills strictly ordered by the date they were voted out of committee), but was 74th in line and unlikely to be brought up for a vote.

SB 723 seemed defeated until Monday, May 9th, when Williams' put it back on the intent calendar for the following day. Once again alerts went out from nearly a dozen organizations encouraging people around the state to contact Senators and tell them to "oppose SB 723." The bill remained on the intent calendar for three days before being removed on Thursday, May 12.

SB 723 was moved to the General Calendar for one day, Friday, May 13th, then was placed back on the intent calendar the following Monday, May 16th. This third appearance of the bill on the intent calendar created fears that Williams had found a Democrat willing to support SB 723, with Uresti being the most likely culprit. The threat was short lived, however, as SB 723 was removed from the intent calendar the following day.

By Tuesday, May 17th, SB 723 appeared on life support. It was still on the General calendar but was 43 bills down the list and unlikely to be brought up in time to be voted out of the Senate, sent to the House, referred to committee and voted out of committee before the midnight, May 21st deadline.

So now we can celebrate! Perhaps the most overtly transphobic piece of legislation ever to be filed in the Texas Legislature has been defeated, and here's how it happened: the community spoke with one voice. Take a minute to consider how uncommon it is for organizations like GetEqual and the Human Rights Campaign to send action alerts urging the exact same thing. Think about the thousands of people all over the country who phoned, e-mailed and faxed Senators.

As a community we are very skilled at coming together to fight bad legislation. Where is that united voice when the time comes to fight for good legislation? Sometimes it gets lost as we fight amongst ourselves for perfect legislation. Sometimes it gets lost as the community bifurcates along partisan lines. Sometimes it gets lost in despair, as we give up hope that the people elected to represent us will ever recognize their responsibility to do so.

The defeat of SB 723 proves what we can do when we acknowledge that sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good, when we set aside our differences and when we dare to hope that someday we will be granted the American promise of full citizenship. This doesn't mean that we should settle for second best, or that their isn't room for disagreement, or that their isn't an appropriate time to mourn our station. It means that when the call goes out for action we must learn to speak loudly and with one voice. That is the lesson of SB 723, and that is the only way we are going to win.





Saturday, May 21, 2011

Day 131: The Senate's Intent Calendar can be a Good Thing, Resource Centers Threatened in the House

Today is the 131st day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. The House reconvenes and the Senate returns from recess at 10 am.

In the Senate, HB 1942, the anti-bullying "super" bill crafted by the House Public Education Committee, is on the fast-track "intent calendar." 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 the Senate takes 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. The "intent calendar" is a list of bills that Senators intend to bring up out of order.

Since we need 21 Senators to support HB 1942 in order for it to be brought up it is vital that Senators hear from constituents. Equality Texas has set up an easy to use e-mail generator here, it takes less than 30 seconds. If you have a full minute to spare to help kids you can call your Senator, their phone number can be found here.

Speaking of the Senate... midnight today is the deadline for Senate bills to be voted out of House committees. SB 723, the anti-trans marriage bill, is still stuck in the Senate, it is extremely unlikely that it would pass from the Senate's regular order of business, be referred to committee, and voted out of committee, by the time the deadline passes. At this point the bill is 99.9% dead.

Last night the House passed SB 1811, one of a series of "fiscal matters" bills that complement the State's budget. Wayne Christian (R-Center) prefiled two amendments to the bill designed to defund LGBT resource centers from Texas universities and prevent them from being housed on campus. As I posted today on the Dallas Voice's Instant Tea Blog:
"Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, sponsored SB 1811 in the House. Before bringing the bill to the floor Pitts met with both the Republican and Democratic caucuses and explained that he would only support amendments that he deemed to be “perfecting” amendments. The sponsor of a bill can “accept” amendments, which usually means that they pass without a vote. The sponsor cannot block amendments, but other members often vote against amendments a sponsor opposes out of respect.

Pitts stuck by his guns, opposing all but eleven “perfecting” amendments. Although the House did pass some, mostly Republican sponsored, amendments over his objections for the most part they respected his opposition. Toward the end of the evening Pitts’ resolve began to fade and several amendments were allowed with the assumption that they would be removed later in the process.

While the House was considering SB 1811 the Senate passed Senate Bill 1581, another of the “fiscal matters” bills - this one dealing exclusively with education. Considering the late hour several of the members, including Christian, removed their proposed amendments to SB 1811 that dealt with education, assuming that the amendments could be offered to SB 1581, which is scheduled to be brought up in the House tomorrow."

Friday, May 20, 2011

Action Alert: Urge Senate Passage of Anti-Bullying HB 1942

From Equality Texas:

Anti-Bullying House Bill 1942, the consensus, bipartisan product of the House Public Education Commitee, was successfully voted out of the Senate Education Committee Thursday evening on a vote of 6-0.

HB 1942 was just added to the Senate Intent Calendar for Saturday, May 21st.


HB 1942 COULD BE PASSED BY THE FULL SENATE ON SATURDAY, MAY 21ST.

ASK YOUR STATE SENATOR TO VOTE FOR ANTI-BULLYING HOUSE BILL 1942.


Please help now. Go HERE and enter your zip code

ALERT: LGBT Resource Centers to be Banned from Texas Universities

I received a call at 3 am this morning that Wayne Christian (R-Center) intends to offer two amendments designed to eliminate LGBT resource centers from Texas’ state universities. Christian intends to offer the amendments to Senate Bill 1811, a large fiscal matters bill that has been stalled in the House for the last week.

The first amendment is identical to the language of Christian's infamous "family and traditional values center" amendment to the State budget, requiring universities that appropriate state funds for their LGBT resource centers to equally fund centers for “family and traditional values.” The American Independent pointed out that that the resource centers at both UT Austin and Texas A&M are funded by student fees, not state funds, and would be unaffected by the amendment.

Chrisitan’s second amendment would prohibit any state funds from being spent on campus LGBT resource centers and would also prohibit universities from housing the centers in state owned buildings, effectively banning them from campus.

SB 1811 contains additional budgetary provisions not included in the HB 1, the state budget. It's one of the last major bills to come through the House, making it a prime target for amendment for members whose bills have already died. Known as a "Christmas Tree" because everyone tries to hang their dead legislation on it, such bills take hours of debate, delaying other work. The House may delay consideration of SB 1811 until next week to avoid such delay. The bill must pass the House by midnight next Tuesday, May 24.

Call your state representative immediately and tell them to oppose the Christian amendments. You can find your state rep here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Day 127: HIV Funding in Jeopardy

Today is the 127th day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. The House reconvenes at 10 am. The Senate will briefly come back from an overnight recess at 8 am, then will officially start it's day at 11 am.

Last night the conference committee on HB 1 (the budget) laid out their proposed compromise on what are considered the less controversial portions of the budget. The conference committee is made up of five members of the House (appointed by the Speaker of the House) and five members of the Senate (appointed by the Lieutenant Governor). Their job is to come up with a compromise between the House's proposed state budget for the next two years and the Senate's proposed state budget for the next two years. The largest sticking point is public education spending. The committee did not lay out their proposal on how to fix the four billion dollar difference in public education spending in the two versions of the budget.

The conference committee's proposal uses the House's numbers for funding the state's HIV/STD prevention programs (including the HIV Medication Assistance Program), spending 19.1 million dollars less than what advocates say is needed to keep track with the increased rate of infection. The committee's proposal is far from finalized and they will continue to take input from other lawmakers and the public. The HIV/AIDS coalition of Texas has issued an action alert to members of the public asking them to contact the conference committee and demand that HIV/STD prevention programs be fully funded. There is an easy to use form e-mail generator here.

No word on whether the conference committee will restore Wayne Christian's (R-Center) "family and traditional values" amendment that was left out of the Senate's version of the budget. The amendment would require state universities that appropriate state funds to finance LGBT resource centers to equally fund "family and traditional values centers." The amendment is designed to defund the LGBT resource centers but would likely have little effect, even if restored, since most resource centers are funded by student fees, not state appropriations.

It may not matter. The budget is the only thing that the legislature is constitutionally required to pass. If they are unable to reach a comprimise before the 140 day session ends on May 30 the governor may be forced to call a "special session." Special sessions are called to consider specific legislative issues that arise between regular sessions, they can last for months or hours depending on how long it takes the legislature to resolve the issue. Sen. Steve Ogden (R-Bryan), who is chair of the Senate Finance Committee, told the Austin American Statesmen that he thought it was unlikely that the House and Senate would agree on how to fund eduction, making a special session likely. Said Ogden: “I don’t think we’re going to agree on a funding level for education before a special session.” If a special session is necessary the budget will have to be drafted starting from scratch.


SB 723, the anti-trans marriage bill, is not on the Senate's intent calendar for today, but remains on the regular order of business. As the 45th bill on the regular order it is extremely unlikely that the Senate will consider it today. In order to become law the bill must pass out of the Senate and be voted out of House Committee by midnight on Monday. At this point every hour SB 723 is not considered is another nail in it's coffin.


The Senate Education committee will receive testimony this morning on HB 1942, the compromise "super" anti-bullying bill crafted by the House Public Education Committee and passed out of the House two weeks ago. The committee is scheduled to meet at 8:30, but may start late since the Senate has to meet briefly this morning to finish up yesterday's business. You can watch the hearing live here.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Day 126: Anti-Trans Marriage Bill Still in the Senate, Budget Conference Continues

Today is the 126th day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. Both the House and Senate reconvene at 11:00 am. We're down to the last two weeks of session which means that things are moving quickly there is a lot happening.

SB 723, the anti-trans marriage bill, is back on the intent calendar in the Senate today. In order to be brought up for debate the bill must have the support of 20 of the 31 Senators, this means that the 12 Democratic members of the Senate can block the bill just by keeping a united front. SB 723 has been going on and off the intent calendar since April 18th, and every time it has LGBT activists across the country have flooded the Senators offices with phone calls, e-mails and faxes telling them to "oppose SB 723." The bills author, Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands), must get SB 723 through the Senate this week or it will die.

Even if you have contacted them before please call, fax and e-mail the 12 Democratic Senators again today, a list is at the bottom of this post. If you able to contact all 31 Senators there is a full contact list for them here. If you are only able to contact one Senator Equality Texas has set up an easy to use form e-mail generator here.

It can seem like this is never ending, and it can be easy to despair, but the deadline for Senate bills to pass out of House committees is this Saturday so we only have to hold this bill in place for 6 more days! Even if you have contacted the Senators before please do it again! We just have a little further to go.

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The big bill capturing most of the media attention right now is the budget. Both the House and Senate have passed versions of the budget but since their versions are different a "conference committee" has been appointed to hash out a compromise. The conference committee is made up of five Senators (appointed by the Lieutenant Governor) and five House members (appointed by the Speaker of the House). The conference committee can only deal with the parts of the budget that are different between the two versions.

One area that is different is the funding for the state's HIV medication assistance program. The Senate fully funded the program at the level that advocates say is necessary to keep track with climbing infection rates but the House version underfunds the program by 19.2 billion dollars. Since both versions fund the program the conferees' compromise budget must also fund the program, but may do so at any level between the House's and the Senate's.

Also included in the House version of the budget was an amendment by Wayne Christian (R-Center) that attempts to defund college LGBT resource centers by requiring equal funding for "Family and Traditional Values Centers," the Senate version of the budget does not include the Christian Amendment. Even though, as the American Independent points out, the Christian amendment was too poorly written to have its intended affect he is still fighting for it, sending an alert to his e-mail list last week encouraging people to call the conference committee and tell them to retain the language.

The forces of the far right are massing to ensure that the state's budget is as repressive as possible. If you believe that HIV medication assistance funding should be governed by what doctors say is needed, not by what bureaucrats are willing to cough up, if you believe that queer college students deserve the resources provided by LGBT centers then please call the conference committee to let them know (make one call for each issue (two calls per member) for maximum effect):

House Conference Committee Members

Chairman Pitts- [email protected], 512-463-0516

Rep. Crownover- [email protected], 512-463-0582

Rep. Otto- [email protected], 512-463-0570

Rep. Turner- [email protected], 512-463-0554

Rep. Zerwas- [email protected], 512-463-0657

Senate Conference Committee Members

Chairman Ogden- [email protected], 512-463-0105

Senator Nelson- [email protected], 512-463-0112

Senator Williams- [email protected], 512-463-0104

Senator Duncan- [email protected], 512-463-0128

Senator Hinojosa- [email protected], 512-463-0120


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Senate Democrats (call for SB 723)

Carlos Uresti:
(P)512-463-0119
(F) 512-463-1017
[email protected]

Mario Gallegos:
(P)512-463-0106
(F) 512-463-0346
[email protected]

Wendy Davis:
(P) 512-463-0110
(F) 512-475-3745
[email protected]

Rodney G. Ellis:
(P)512-463-0113
(F) 512-463-0006
[email protected]

Kirk Watson:
(P)512-463-0114
(F) 512-463-5949
[email protected]

John Whitmire:
(P)512-463-0115
(F) 713-864-5287
[email protected]

Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa:
(P)512-463-0120
(F) 512-463-0229
[email protected]

Judith Zaffirini:
(P)512-463-0121
(F) 512-475-3738
[email protected]

Royce West:
(P)512-463-0123
(F) 512-463-0299
[email protected]

Leticia R. Van de Putte:
(P)512-463-0126
(F) 512-463-2114
[email protected]

Eduardo A. (Eddie) Lucio, Jr.:
(P)512-463-0127
(F) 512-463-0061
[email protected]

José R. Rodríguez:
(P)512-463-0129
(F) 512-463-7100
[email protected]