Thursday, February 17, 2011

Day 38: Heather Has Two Mommies, But Only One Is Legally Recognized

Today is the 38th day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. The House reconvenes at 10 am, the Senate at 11.

Yesterday Rep. Garnet Coleman (D - Houston) introduced HB 1386 which would create a truly visionary program to counter youth suicide that includes a non-discrimination policy for Texas public school students that includes sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. I'll write more about HB 1386 later, but wanted to take this opportunity to thank Rep. Coleman for his thoughtful legislation.

HB 415 by Rep. Anchia (D - Dallas) was referred to the House Committee on Public Health yesterday. HB 415 would allow same-sex parents to be given birth certificates for their children which accurately reflect both parents. Current law prohibits Texas' birth certificates from reflecting two men or two women as parents, straight people who adopt are regularly given amended birth certificates that reflect both parents names.

The composition of the House public health committee this session is interesting. An 11 member committee, it has 4 Democratic members and 7 Republicans and is chaired by Rep. Louis Kolkhorst (R - Austin, Grimes, Walker, Washington counties). Anchia filed this bill last session as well, during that hearing Kolkhorst was visibly moved by parents' stories of how not having an accurate birth certificate has made it difficult for them to get emergent care for their children, secure visas for travel and be recognized as a guardian by their children's schools. If Kolkhorst can be convinced to allow the the committee to vote on HB 415 there is a chance that this bill might make it to the House floor for a vote.

The 4 Democratic members of the committee include 3 of the staunchest allies of the queer community: Naishtat, Coleman, Gonzales. The other one, Alvarado, doesn't have a voting record on LGBT issues because she is a sophomore member and there wasn't a record vote last session, but she has made multiple public statements in support of the community. Those four votes are pretty secure, since the committee has 11 members the bill needs 6 supporters to make it out of committee and on to the House floor. If chairwoman Kolkhorst can be persuaded to support HB 415 that makes 5 yea votes. So where might the 6th one come from?

Of the 7 republican members only one is a member of the notorious "Gang of 37": Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R - Colin, Rockwall counties) - House members with perfect records of voting against the LGBT community - people who never miss an opportunity to exact their bigotry on the queer populous. The other 7, including chairwoman Kolkhorst have, at least once, been persuaded to vote in the best interest of the community or are freshmen or sophomores who have yet to establish a record. The relatively moderate make up gives me hope that one of those members might become the necessary 6th vote, but which one?

One of the more hopeful freshmen members is Rep. Sarah Davis (R - Houston). Davis actively sought and enthusiastically received the endorsement of the Houston chapter of Log Cabin Republicans during her campaign. The Harris county Republican party did very little to support her campaign, so she's not as beholden to the party machine as some other members, and she has made public statements that she would support the LGBT community (so long as that support doesn't include what she considers the "expansion of government"). This bill would seem a key opportunity for her to prove her statements. She could easily become the necessary 6th vote, particurally if sufficient public pressure is brought to bear.

Rep. Davis' Austin office can be reached at (512) 463-0389.

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