Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Bullying Reporting Requirement Fails for First Time in Six Years

Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) offered an amendment during the April 1st budget debate that would have required school districts to report instances of bullying or harassment enumerated by motivating bias (if any). The required enumeration would have included sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. The amendment (amendment #123 to HB 1) was tabled. 97 House members voted to table the amendment, 49 voted against.

Coleman has offered the same amendment during the last two legislative sessions, both times it passed. In 2007 the amendment passed 77 to 68 [amendment #73 to HB 1] (read LQ's detailed review of the vote). In 2009 it passed on a simple voice vote [amendment #262 to SB 1] (the House rules say that all votes are taken by a simple voice vote, unless someone requests a record vote - generally speaking amendments that pass on a voice vote are noncontroversial).

In both 2007 and 2009 the Coleman amendment was removed by the conference committee. After both the House and Senate approve a version of the budget a committee of House members appointed by the Speaker of the House and Senators appointed by the Lt. Governor meet to find compromises on portions of the budget that differ between their versions. Since, in both cases, the Senate version of the budget did not include the reporting requirement the conference committee was able to remove it.

Why did an amendment that passed during the last two sessions not pass this session?

One reason is that the Republican party made tremendous gains in the Texas House during the November 2010 elections, changing the partisan balance of the House from 76/74 to 101/49 (although two of those changes are due to former Democrats switching parties). The Texas State Republican party has an official plank in their platform calling for the reinforcement of the state's sodomy law. More Republicans in the House means more people voting against the best interest of queer people.

But part of the reason is that six of the members who supported the amendment in 2007 voted against it in 2011: Chuck Hopson, Jim Murphy, Allen Ritter, John Zerwas, Aaron Pena and Larry Taylor - all Republicans (although Pena was a Democrat until this session). Three members who voted against the amendment in 2007 voted for it in 2009: Republicans Geanie Morrison and John Davis and Democrat Ruth McClendon.

I've e-mailed the offices of of the six members who changed their vote to oppose reporting instances of bullying. I eagerly await their response.

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