Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Day 106: Cyber-Bullying, HIV Medication and Unfunded Mandates

Today is the 106th day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. Both the House and Senate reconvene at 11 am. Today marks the beginning of the final fourth of session. With just five weeks to go the already harried pace of session is only going to accelerate.

In the broad conversation on legislation designed to combat cyber-bullying HB 1666, by Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) has largely stayed under the radar. By law created in 2009 it is illegal in Texas to create a fake profile on a social network site with the intent to "harm, defraud, intimidate or threaten another person." HB 1666 would expand this prohibition to include other, non-social networking, sites. The original legislation creating this law was written by former Republican Representative Brian McCall and passed with broad bi-partisan support, mostly due to McCall's descriptions of little old ladies being taken in by MySpace scams. But the law might also make schoolyard bullies think twice before setting up fake web pages or profiles designed to humiliate their peers and the logical expansion of its reach to non-social networking sites is welcomed. HB 1666 is scheduled to be debated on the House floor today.

Also scheduled in the House today is HB 2229 by Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston). HB 2229 would make permanent the Texas HIV Medication Advisory Committee. Texas has a program that provides medication assistance to low-income HIV-positive people, which is managed by the Texas Department of State Health Services. The Advisory Committee is made up of Doctors, Pharmacist, Nurses, Care Providers and low-income HIV-positive people in the program. It's designed to provide input from people who are on the ground dealing with the day-to-day functioning of the program.

Earlier this year the Department of State Health Services Commissioner, Dr. David Lakey, declined to renew the Advisory Committee when the rule creating it expired. After a massive outcry from Texans he eventually reappointed the committee and they had their first meeting on April 1st. Coleman's bill is designed to prevent future commissioners from taking similar steps and simply creates in the statute what is already happening. HB 2229 was voted out of committee with only one member objecting (Rep. Van Taylor (R-Plano)). Continuing to do what is already being done doesn't cost the the state anything extra, and allowing people who are directly affected by a program to have input in how it functions makes since.

Over in the Senate SB 205 is on the Intent Calendar (a list of bills Senators intend to bring up for a vote), as is HB 1:

SB 205, by Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) is one of several anti-bullying bills filed this session. Currently school districts must create student codes of conduct which are designed, in part, to discourage bullying. Whitmire's bill specifies requirements for the anti-bullying portions of those codes, while still allowing a great deal of leeway for the district (read LQ's original review of SB 205).

HB 1 is the budget. Each regular session versions of the budget are filed in both the House and the Senate as HB 1 and SB 1. The two bodies alternate whose version eventually winds up being the "real" budget, but both have an opportunity to edit and change it. This is a House budget year so HB 1, in some form, will likely become the budget for the State of Texas for the next two years.

When the House was creating the budget Rep. Wayne Christian (R-Center) stuck an amendment on it that requires public universities that have GLBT resource centers to also create, and equally fund, a "Center for Family and Traditional Values." (read LQ's analysis of the floor debate on the amendment). The student Senate at Texas A&M has already passed a resolution supporting funding its "Center for Family and Traditional Values" by cutting the GLBT resource center's budget in half. Given the tight budget at public universities and that Christian did not provide and additional funding as part of his mandate, it is likely that, if the amendment becomes law, other schools will be forced to similarly defund, or eliminate completely, their GLBT resource centers. Which, I'm certain, was Christian's intention. (The full text of the budget is HERE, the Christian amendment is on page 459)

The amendment must be removed in the Senate, which will likely tackle HB 1 this week, or it will become law. After the Senate passes it's version of HB 1 a "conference committee" made up of House and Senate members will meet to hash out compromises between the two bodies' versions of the bill. The conference committee is only permitted to make changes to portions of the budget that are different between the two versions. So if the budget passes the Senate with the Christian amendment still intact the conference committee will be unable to do anything to remove it. This is the last chance, at least for the next two years, for Texans to defend this important campus resource from an unfunded mandate designed to deprive queer college students of one of the few places on campus specifically designed to meet their needs.

You can find the contact information for your Senator HERE.

SB 723, the anti-trans-marriage bill, is still on the Senate's General Calendar, but it is unlikely that it will be voted on this week.

1 comment:

  1. It seems that all evil can be traced back to the Woodlands.