Thursday, November 15, 2012

HB 201: Accurate Birth Certificates

Rep. Rafael Anchia
It is standard practice for courts to issue “supplemental birth certificates” that reflect the names of the adoptive parents of a child. This is done because birth certificates are the primary document for establishing the parental relationship and are often required to enroll children in school, add them to the parent’s insurance policy or admit them for medical treatment. Current Texas law states that supplemental birth certificates contain two fields for parents "one of whom must be a female, named as the mother, and the other of whom must be a male, named as the father."

It is perfectly legal in Texas for two men or two women to be the parents of a child. Adoption is about the relationship between parents and their children, not about the relationship between the parents, so Texas' lack of the freedom to marry has no affect on adoption law. From the perspective of the law two people of the same sex who have a child together are simply two single people with a child, in the same way that two people of the opposite sex who have a child together but who are not married are simply two single people with a child.

There are thousands of same-sex couples who are raising children together (20% of same-sex couples in Texas are raising children, according the 2010 Census), but those parents are unable to obtain the primary document used to prove the parent child relationship.

House Bill 201, by Rafael Anchia (D - Dallas), corrects this problem by deleting the requirement in the Family Code that one parent must be male and one must be female.

Anchia has been filing this legislation for nearly a decade. His version during the last session, HB 415, received a powerful hearing in the House Public Health Committee last session, with several parents of small children testifying about the need for the bill. Unfortunately the bill was never brought up for a vote in the committee.

The House Public Health Committee is chaired by Rep. Lois Kolkhorst (R - Brenham), who is expected to retain her chairwomanship during the upcoming session. 89% of Texas voters believe that "gay and lesbian parents should have the same legal rights with respect to their children." With the overwhelming public support for this bill it is hard to believe that it would not pass a vote of the entire 150-member House, were the House given the opportunity, but first Rep. Kolkhorst must grant HB 201 a hearing, and allow it to come up for a vote in committee.

If you live in Rep. Anchia's district call him at (214) 943-6081 and thank him for for filing HB 201.

If you live in Rep. Kolkhorst's district call her at (979) 251-7888 and ask that HB 201 receive a prompt hearing and committee vote once the legislature reconvenes in January.

If you don't know who represents you go here to find out. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How to Secede (Without Really Trying)

Why can't the White House let you secede? Because these
guys say so, that's why. (The Chase court)
A petition calling on the White House to allow the State of Texas to secede and form its own government has reached the threshold required for an official White House response. The "We the People" site on the White House's official webpage allows anyone to create a petition. If any petition receives 25,000 signatures within 30 days the White House has committed to respond.

Several states have similar petitions on the site, although none of the others, as the Texas Tribune pointed out, has a governor who hinted at secessionist statements in public. “When we came into the nation in 1845, we were a republic, we were a stand-alone nation,” Perry told a group of bloggers in 2009. “And one of the deals was, we can leave anytime we want. So we’re kind of thinking about that again.”

Beyond the funny gubernatorial gaffs and the rantings of on-line trolls what's the legal reality behind secession? If the White House wanted to grant the petitioners their wish (and let's face it, removing Texas' 38 electoral college votes from the process would pretty much guarantee the election of Democratic presidents for the foreseeable future) is there a process by which the Lone Star state could strike out on its own?


No there is not.

In fact, the State of Texas once argued stridently that such a process did not exist:

Monday, November 12, 2012

SB 73: Prohibit Insurance Discrimination

Sen. Rodney Ellis
Sen Rodney Ellis (D - Houston) filed Senate Bill 73 with the Secretary of the Senate today. Under current law insurance providers may not deny insurance or offer a different rate of insurance based on the applicant's "race, color, religion, national origin, age, gender, marital status, geographic location, disability or partial disability" unless the denial of insurance or difference in rate is based on "sound actuarial principals." SB 73 would add "sexual orientation" and "gender identity or expression" to that list.

Ellis filed identical legislation last session. That bill, SB 208, was referred to the Senate State Affairs Committee and was never heard from again. State Affairs is chaired by Sen. Robert Duncan (R - Lubbock), Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst recently re-appointed Duncan to that post. Ultimately it will be Duncan who decides if this bill is allowed to continue through the legislative process.

Rep. Roberto Alonzo (D - Dallas) has filed identical legislation in the House for at least the last three sessions, but has not done so yet this cycle.

  • If you live in Sen. Ellis' district please call him at 713-236-0306 and thank him for his support.
  • If you live in Sen. Duncan's district please call him at 806-762-1122 and ask that SB 73 be given a prompt hearing in committee.
  • If you live in Rep. Alonzo's district please call him at 214-942-7104, thank him for his previous support, and ask that he consider re-filing his insurance nondiscrimination bill as soon as possible.

If you don't know who represents you go here to find out.

Day -57: First Day to Pre-file Bills

There are 57 days until the start of the 83rd regular session of the Texas legislature. Today is the first day for members to pre-file legislation for consideration once the body convenes.

Even after the start of session there will be several additional steps before any of these bills start on the process to become laws. First the House will need to elect from amongst their membership a speaker, who will oversee the legislative process over the 140 days of the session. The current speaker is Joe Strauss (R - San Antonion), but Rep. Brian Hughes (R - Mineola) has announced his intention to challenge Strauss for the speakership. Hughes is unlikely to defeat Strauss unless he can engineer a change in the way the speaker is selected.

Throughout its history the House has voted as a body for speaker, this has required candidates to construct coalitions from both parties to achieve the 76 votes (out of 150) needed. This process has usually produced a centrist speaker with which neither the far right nor far left has been particularly enamored.

Contrast that process with the US House of Representatives: the majority party meets in caucus to select their choice and then agrees to vote a block for that choice, thus producing the gridlock and intransigence for which Washington is so well known. If Hughes can convince his fellow Republicans to use a similar system he may be able to unseat Strauss.

After the House selects a speaker both it and the Senate must write their own rules. This is usually done by starting with the previous session's rules and making adjustments to address issues that arose during the previous session or during the interim. The rules also determine the committee structure for both the House and Senate.

Once the rules, and the committees, are determined the Speaker and the Lieutenant Governor assign members to committees in the House and Senate, respectively.

On the Senate side there will be 5 new members (four new members elected last week and one more elected in a special election to replace the late Sen. Mario Gallegos). Last session Lt. Gov. Dewhurst announced committee assignments on the 16th day of session. He's already begun to re-arrange some of the committee chairs and even with the new members it's likely that we'll know the make-up of committees around the same time this session. 

Because of the advantages of early filing, some members
have staffers camp out to file early. As Rep. Dan Branch
(R - Dallas) notes in this tweet.
The speaker will have a bigger task on his hands. During his first session as speaker, Struass announced committee assignments on day 18. Last session, with 26 freshmen members it took him a little longer and committee assignments weren't announced until day 30. This session, with 43 freshmen in the 83rd House we likely won't see committee assignments until early February.

Only after rules are adopted and committee assignments are made can bills be referred to committee. So a bill filed today will likely be in limbo until late January or early February, when it will finally get the chance to be referred.

Typically, at least on the House side, bills are referred to committee in 200 bill blocks, so the first 200 bills (which will likely all be filed today (except for the first 20 in the House and 25 in the Senate, those are reserved for "priority" bills and can be filed at any time) are the first to get started in the process.

Because of the advantages of being in that first block of 200 some members have staffers wait overnight in the capitol to ensure being first in line, and so the first of many long nights for capitol staffers begins and the 83rd regular session draws closer.