Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Day 2: Sunset and Rules

Sen. Leticia Van De Putte
Today is the 2nd day of the 83rd regular session of the Texas Legislature. The House convenes at 10:00 am, the Senate at 11:00 am.

Yesterday's opening ceremonies largely went off without a hitch. On the Senate side Sen. Leticia Van De Putte (D - San Antonio) was elected the senate president pro tempore, a largely ceremonial position (although it means that if both the Governor and Lt. Governor are out of state she can act as governor). Last session Sen. Van De Putte co-authored a comprehensive anti-bullying bill with Sen. Wendy Davis (D - Fort Worth) that included non-discrimination protections for both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (which unfortunately did not pass). She also co-sponsored HB 1942, the anti-bullying bill that went into effect last year, but which did not include non-discrimination protections.

If you were watching the Senate's swearing-in yesterday morning and felt a chill go up your spine it's likely because you caught a sight of failed presidential candidate and former U.S. Senator Rick Sanatorium (he of the infamous same-sex relationships = "man on dog" sex quote). Sen. Santorium was in attendance as the guest of freshmen Sen. Ken Paxton (R - McKinney).

This morning the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission meets in public hearing. Most state agencies in Texas are subject to "sunset review" on a regular schedule. The review is required in order for the agency to continue its operations and is an opportunity for public input on the agency. The Advisory Commission consists of twelve members of the Legislature who then make recommendations to the whole body about needed changes. A list of the agencies under review this cycle is available here.

Meanwhile we're waiting for both the House and Senate to adopt rules. The Texas Constitution allows the bodies of the legislature to figure out for themselves how to go about their business. For the most part both the House and Senate start with last year's rules and make a few adjustments based on issues that have arisen. There has been some debate about whether to keep the "two thirds rule" in the Senate, which requires most legislation to receive 2/3 support before passing (normally this means 21 of the 31 senators, because of the recent death of Sen. Gallegos (D - Houston) and the current vacancy of his seat only 20 senators are required for the time being). Senate leadership has indicated that the two thirds rule is likely to remain intact for the time being.

On the House side yesterday Rep. David Simpson (R - Lubbock) withdrew his nomination for Speaker of the House (the Speaker is the leader of the House, elected by the entire body from among their own membership), clearing the way for Speaker Joe Strauss (R - San Antonio) to be re-elected to a third term by acclimation.

In his concession speech Simpson quoted President Thomas Jefferson's first inagural address:
"All...will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression. Let us, then, fellow-citizens, unite with one heart and one mind. Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things. And let us reflect that, having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions."
There is a particularly appropriate irony to Simpson quoting Jefferson. Our nation's third president was a brilliant man: the architect of the Declaration of Independence, one of the progenitors of the American belief in government only by the consent of the governed, a dedicated and talented statesman who piloted our nation through some of its earliest trials.

He was also a profoundly racist and sexist person.

Jefferson was a product of his time, perhaps, but it can not be argued that a belief that the rights of individuals should be restricted based solely on the color of their skin or their sex is anything other than the definition of racism and sexism.

Likewise when Rep. Simpson speaks of the rights of the minority his concept of the minority is limited, perhaps as much as Jefferson's. Simpson is not speaking of communities that are denied a voice at the table of power because of the circumstances of birth. His concept of "minority" is restricted to people who lounge at the tables of power, gorged on the buffet it offers, but whose extreme views and arrogance make it impossible for them to win the hearts of their fellow power brokers.

This inability to understand the difference between not having power and having power, but being too inept to wield it, undoubtedly explains why, during the last legislative session, Simpson supported removing LGBT student resource centers from college campuses. It explains why Simpson voted against requiring schools to report instances of bullying based on anti-LGBT bias, and why he believes that insurance companies should be allowed to continue discriminating against people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression, even when that discrimination is not based on actuarially sound principles.

Like Jefferson, Simpson is a product of the time and place he lives, and like Jefferson that doesn't make him stupid, or evil... it makes him unaware of the consequences of his actions. It's too late to educated our nation's third president -it's not too late to educate Rep. Simpson.

If you live in the Lubbock area, please give the representative a call. Help him to understand that his voice at the table can be a powerful tool for insuring that the the rights of the minority are not trampled by the majority. Ask him to support efforts to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Texans.

Rep. Simpson is currently in his Austin office. He can be reached at (512) 463-0750) 

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