Friday, March 27, 2015

Legislative Update for March 27: Here Comes the Budget

This week in your Legislative Update: Daniel tells us about a hearing on an anti-marriage bill and why the budget can be dangerous.

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I’m Daniel with Equality Texas and this is the Legislative Update for Friday, March 27, the 74th day of the Texas Legislature’s 140 day regular session.

On Monday families from all over Texas traveled to Austin for Family Advocacy Day at the capitol.

It was an amazing day and I’d like to thank our partners at the Handsome Father and PFLAG for help making it possible.

On Wednesday, the House State Affairs Committee heard HB 1745 by Cecil Bell.
The bill would move the responsibility for the issuance of marriage licenses from locally-elected county clerks to the Texas Secretary of State, an appointed bureaucrat in Austin. The bill then allows, but not requires, the Secretary of State to permit county clerks to issue marriage licenses, but requires the Secretary of State to suspend the issuances of all marriage licenses in a county if the clerk issues a license to a same-gender couple.

That’s a whole new level of bureaucracy, and it comes with a price tag of over a million dollars a year to the state, according to the Legislative Budget board, plus up to another $1.3 million dollars per county, according to the Texas Association of County and District Clerks, plus who knows how many million in the inevitable lawsuit that Attorney General Paxton will, I’m sure, pursue defense of with gusto…

All to keep loving, committed couples from making a publically-accountable, legal commitment.
…your tax dollars at work…

The hearing went very well – the committee heard from faith leaders, parents, couples, grandparents, legal experts and county clerks – all articulating why HB 1745 is a bad idea. The bill is currently “pending” in committee – basically it’s sitting on a desk, waiting to be considered. The committee would have to vote on it by May 11th for it to continue on its way to become law.
We’ll continue to advocate on your behalf in the capitol every day until that deadline passes.
Next week, on Tuesday the House will take up HB 1. This is the bill that will become the state’s budget for the next two years. The danger with HB 1 comes in the form of amendments.

Now, the House has pretty strict rules about the germaneness of amendments. You can’t just amend anything to anything, and the Speaker of the House has pretty broad discretion to determine if amendments are germane. So, for instance, a bill that’s about creating an insurance program for bank deposits can’t be amended to create funding to pay rewards for the capture of bank robbers (at least not according to the ruling from Speaker Stephenson in 1933), but a bill to bill to change the drinking age can be amended to better define the offense of selling alcohol to a minor (at least according the Speaker Lewis in 1985).

The appropriations bill is tricky, because it touches almost every aspect of state government, at least the parts of state government that cost money. Since 1905, due to a ruling by Speaker Seabury, it has been the practice of the House to include contingencies to the funding mechanism. ie: spend the money this way or we take away the money.

The risk here is that an amendment could be attached that required that a state agency only spend money in a way that discriminates against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender Texans.

Amendments to the Appropriations Bill must be prefiled by this Saturday at noon, so we should have a full list of amendments by mid afternoon and the team here at Equality Texas will begin reading carefully through all of them. I expect several hundred amendments to be filed so it may take us awhile to weed out any bad ones – but be on the lookout for an Action Alert on Saturday night in response.

Tuesday is also the International Transgender Day of Visibility and we’re proud to be part of a coalition that is bringing trans Texans to the capitol to talk to lawmakers that day – register for the event on our website under the “event calendar” tab. We’re also sponsoring a briefing on trans issues for lawmakers and their staff next Thursday, April 2nd.

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