Friday, October 15, 2010

Coleman Again Vows to Fight Bullying; Does He Mean It This Time?

In a Houston Chronicle editorial Rep. Garnet Coleman has pledged to refile legislation to create a statewide nondiscrimination policy for Texas Public Schools. Rep. Coleman has filed similar legislation every regular session since 2003 (2003 - HB 862, 2005 - HB 376, 2007 - HB 2527, 2009 - HB 3746 (similar legislation had previously been carried by former House members Rep. Harryette Ehrhardt and, before her, Glen Maxey (the only openly gay person ever to serve in the Texas House).

The policy would cover "actual or perceived ethnicity, color, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, disability, religion, or national origin" and would apply to both students and employees of public schools. The more recent versions would also required school district to offer regular training to staff and would have creating a statewide reporting system for instances of bullying.

(Before I say anything else about this bill I want to point out that Rep. Coleman (whose district includes part of the historic 'gayborhood' of Montrose) included "gender identity and expression" in his list of protected classes. Coleman deserves the utmost kudos for this. All too often, when writing bills, elected officials feel that including the trans community will make it too hard to pass their bills and so they have left out gender identity and expression.)

I hope that Rep. Coleman's statement to the press means that he will fight for this bill next session. The bill numbers tell the tale of his declining interest in it over the last few sessions. Bills are numbered in the order they are filed (except for the first 10, which are reserved for the budget and the Speaker's priorities). Legislators tend to file the legislation that is most important to them earlier, because the earlier a bill is filed the earlier it can start the process of becoming a law. So when a bill that one session is HB 376 is, four years later, HB 3746 it clearly is no longer a priority.

The other indicator of Coleman's declining commitment to this legislation is the declining number of authors and co-authors. A house bill can have up to 5 authors and (theoretically) 145 co-authors. House members who wish to support a bill before it makes it to the floor can, with the author's permission, add their name to the bill. Multiple authors and co-authors help during the committee hearing process by indicating the level of support the bill will receive on the floor.

In 2005, the second session Coleman filed the bill it had 5 authors and 14 co-authors. The next session in 2007 it had 4 authors and no co-authors. Last session (2009) it had only two authors: (Coleman and Rep. Marissa Marquez).

Authors and co-authors are also an indication of how hard the original author is hustling to gain support for the bill. It generally doesn't take much for one lawmaker to persuade another to attach their name (assuming they agree on the issue), just a friendly conversation explaining what the bill does. The 17 member decline in authorship indicates that Coleman didn't bother to have those conversations in 2009.

Coleman is not unique in filing legislation and then not fighting for it. Last session there were 4,836 bills filed, only 847 of those became laws. Some of the bills that didn't become law were incorporated into other bills, and some of them were fought for and died anyway, but most of the bills that didn't become laws were bills that were filed just so their author could go back home and say "I tried".

There was a time when the leadership in the queer community was satisfied with "I tried", when the acknowledgment that the community was, at the very least, worth placating was enough to gain our support for a lawmaker. That time is rapidly coming to an end.

More and more we are realizing that the stakes in the battle against bullies are life and death. I hope that Coleman realizes this and chooses to bring his considerable influence to bear in support of this legislation next spring.

If you would like to contact Rep. Coleman's office and politely request his unadulterated support for his own legislation you may do so at (713) 520-5355 or

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