Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Day 120: Anti-Trans Marriage Bill in Senate, Deadlines Loom in House

Today is the 120th day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. The Senate returned from an overnight recess at 8:00 am, the House reconvenes at 9:30.

All eyes are on the Senate today as SB 723 is once again on the "intent calendar." SB 723 would remove a court ordered change of sex from the list of documents that can be used to prove identity when obtaining a marriage license, but the author's stated purpose is to prohibit anyone who has changed their legally recognized sex from getting married. The intent calendar is a list of fast-tracked bills that must receive a 2/3 vote of the Senate to be brought up for debate. The bill's author, Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands), originally placed the bill on the intend calendar back on April 18th, but removed it after a concerted effort by queer activist deluged Democratic Senators with phone calls and e-mails. Since 12 of the 31 members of the Senate are Democrats if they all oppose SB 723 it can not get the required 2/3, or 20, votes it needs to be brought up.

Williams placing SB 723 back on the intent calendar either means that he thinks he's turned one of the Democrats, or that this is a desperate last-ditch move to get his legislation passed. Equality Texas has set up an easy to use form e-mail that will automatically be sent to your Senator here. Please also call your Senator. If Williams has turned one of the Dems it may be Carlos Uresti (San Antonio) who voted "present, not voting" when SB 723 came through the Senate Jurisprudence committee (at one point a "no" vote from him would have killed the bill). Uresti can be reached at his Capitol office at (512) 463-0119.

Just because SB 723 is on today's intent calendar doesn't mean it will come up for a vote today. The Senate has a number of high-profile bills to consider today and it's likely they will run out of time before getting to this bill. The intent calendar rolls over through out the week so activists will need to keep watching the Senate carefully.

If SB 723 passes the Senate the next step will be 1st reading in the House (a mere formality: the bill number and a short description of the bill called a "caption" are read aloud on the House floor), and referral to House committee. The bill would likely be referred to the House Public Health Committee, which would have until Saturday, May 21st to vote on it. Considering the tight deadline it may be too late for SB 723 to pass. It's House companion, HB 2098 by Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), died last night when it failed to meet the midnight deadline for House bills to be voted out of committee. Kolkhorst is the chairwoman of the Public Health Committee, she could have scheduled her bill for a hearing and a vote at any time. The fact that she didn't indicates that it's either not a priority for her, or that she knows she doesn't have the 6 votes she needs to get this legislation out of committee.

In other pressing session deadline news: midnight tonight is the deadline for the House Calendars committee to schedule most House bills for a vote. HB 1386, Garnett Coleman's (D-Houston) rather comprehensive youth suicide prevention bill was voted out of committee last week, but if the Calendars committee doesn't put it on the schedule today it will die.

The other House bill we're watching with an upcoming deadline is HB 910 by Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston), which would allow people recognized by Texas as "unmarried" to enter into gestational agreements with surrogate mothers (current statute only allows legally married persons to enter into such agreements). HB 910 was voted out of the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence committee without any objection which allows it to be placed on the "Local and Consent Calendar" a list of noncontroversial bills to be considered by the House. Thompson is chair of the committee that creates the calendar, so she shouldn't have any problem getting her bill placed on it. The deadline for her to do so is Midnight on Wednesday, May 11th.

Both HB 1386 and HB 910 will have to pass the House by midnight on Thursday, May 12th, then must be voted on a second time in the House of Friday. After that it's on to the Senate.

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