Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Day 50: Here We Go Round the Committee Chambers, at Two O'clock in the Afternoon (or whenever)

Today is the 50th day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas legislature. The House reconvenes at 10 am, the Senate at 11.

Three House committees will hold hearings today on bills that could improve the lives of queer Texans:
  • The Criminal Jurisprudence Committee will hear HB 172 by Veasey (D-Fort Worth), which would require the state to study the effectiveness of the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act, at 10:30 am or when the House finishes their business for the day. More info HERE.
  • The Human Services Committee will hear HB 130 by Alvarado (D-Houston), which would create a statewide bullying hot-line, at 2:00 pm or when the House finishes their business for the day. More info HERE.
  • The Public Education Committee will hear HB 24 by Guillen (D-Duval, Starr, Webb and Zapata counties) which would allow school administrators to address cyber-bullying and HB 224 by Strama (D-Travis county), which proposes a four-fold approach to fighting bullying (requiring training for teachers, staff, volunteers and students; allowing for the transfer of bullies from their victims classes/campuses; allowing school administrators to address cyber-bullying and requiring schools to compile reports on bullying), at 2:00 pm or when the House finishes their business for the day. More info HERE.
If you would like to watch any of these hearings you may do so on the House website HERE. Be forewarned, the House Administration Committee apparently thinks it's 1998 and so broadcasts committee hearings using RealPlayer, which is notoriously buggy. Expect your window to crash on a regular basis. (I suppose this is an improvement over the House Human Services Committee which seems to think it's 1898.)

The bills will be "laid out" in committee: Each bills author will get up, explain what the bill does, and say why they think it should become law. Members of the public will then have a chance to tell the committee why they think the bill should or should not become law. Finally the bill's author will get to make a closing statement on the bill and the bill will be left "pending" in committee until the committee chair decides to call for a vote. Committees rarely vote on bills the same day they are heard, usually waiting at least a week to take a vote.

The Dallas Voice reported yesterday that Rep. Strama will offer a committee substitute to HB 224 (read Legislative Queery's response HERE). House committees are charged with studying bills and making recommendations to the whole House about whether those bills should become law. The recommendation is called a "committee report". A committee substitute replaces the proposed bill with another bill on the same topic. It is included in the committee report which is then sent to one of the House's five "calendars committees" (different calendars committees handle different kinds of bills). The calendars committee then places the bill on the House schedule for consideration. If there is a committee substitute when the bill is brought up for discussion on the House floor the first order of business will be to approve the committee substitute as a replacement for the original bill. It is not until the whole House votes to "take up" the substitute that it officially replaces the bill.

Chuck Smith, Deputy Director of Equality Texas, posted a link to the proposed committee substitute in the comments section of the Dallas Voice article. He writes that:
"ALL members of our Texas Safe Schools Coalition support the committee substitute language, including Equality Texas, Transgender Education Network of Texas, and the GLBT Issues Committee of the National Association of Social Workers-Texas. "
The Texas Safe Schools Coalition is a group of lobbying and community organizations that have come together to advocate for legislation designed to address bullying.

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