Monday, February 7, 2011

Bipartisan Votes Key to LGBT Legislative Successes Part VI

In which, for a brief time, the House adopts a school discrimination reporting policy.

[Be sure to read parts I, II, III, IV & V]

Amendment 73 to HB 1 80th Session by Coleman
Yea (68D 8R)
Nay (1D 69D)
Absent (1D 2R)
Present, not voting (1R)

Every other year, when the legislature meets, the most pressing issue before them, indeed the only legislation they are constitutionally required to pass, is the budget. The Texas State budget is an enormous, unwieldy document. It lays out the funding for every state agency, sometimes in startling detail, and includes provisions requiring reporting for local agencies that receive state funds.

Because the budget is so far-reaching it is a prime target for amendment. In Texas, bill amendments must be "germane" to the topic of the bill they are amending, meaning they have to deal with the same topic. In the case of the budget anything dealing with funding, or with the reporting required of funded agencies, is germane.

In 2007, when the budget came to the House floor, Rep. Garnett Coleman (D-Houston) proposed an amendment that would have required public school districts, when filing reports with the state, to report incidents of alleged discrimination or harassment of staff or students based on real or perceived ethnicity, color, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, disability, religion, or national origin. Since the budget provides funds for schools to prepare their annual reports the amendment was germane since it provided a specific requirement of the report.

Let's be clear, the reporting requirement would not have prohibited discrimination or harassment, and it would not have required school administrators to take steps to prevent discrimination or harassment, it would have simply required them to report it.

The amendment passed narrowly, but with bi-partisan support, unfortunately it was later removed by the conference committee (when the House and Senate versions of a bill differ a "conference committee" is formed to hash out a compromise bill).

This amendment is significant because both HB 224 by Strama and SB 245 by Davis (The big anti-bullying bills) contain very similar reporting requirements (although Strama's leaves out gender identity and expression). The reporting requirement is expected to be the most contentious section of the legislation, for no other reason than it acknowledges the existence of queer people.

One hundred and two members of the 80th Texas House are still serving in the House. Forty-six of those (including six Republicans) supported this reporting requirement, fifty-five (including one Democrat (Rep. McClendon)) opposed it, and one (Speaker Craddick) voted "present-not voting" (the Speaker rarely votes while presiding, considering his voting record it seems safe to assume that Speaker Craddick would vote against a similar reporting requirement this time around). If we assume no one has changed their mind in the last four years (which is, perhaps, not a safe assumption) that means that current anti-bullying efforts will need to garner the support of at least twenty-nine of the freshman and sophomore representatives to pass.

This is one of the most exciting things about the 82nd Texas House; it's almost one third freshmen and sophomore representatives. Their lack of a record is frustrating to policy wonks like me (because it's hard to predict future behavior), but many of them lack a fully-formed opinion on some of the issues most important to LGBT Texans. We have the opportunity to educate them, but only if we take advantage of it.

Call your elected officials! Now, more than ever, it is vital that they hear from their LGBT and ally constituents. To find the contact info for your representative and senator's district offices go HERE. Put in your address and press enter, then scroll down the page until you see the listing for state senator and state representative.

Plus, clear your schedule now to attend Lobby Day at the Capitol, March 7th. Lobby Day is an opportunity for you to meet, face to face, with the people who make decisions that effect your life every day. Training is provided in the morning, then teams of 4-5 people are sent office to office. Each team has someone who has done this before, so you won't be alone. You can register on-line HERE (Lobby Day is free, but please preregister).

We have a narrow window to talk to these reps, before the voices of those who would deny our existence, deny our heritage and deny that our children are in danger step in. We must take advantage of that window now.

Up next: The House votes on whether to take a vote, then they vote, then they take a vote on whether they want to vote again.

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