Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Day 100: Two Important Bills on Senate Intent Calendar

Today is the 100th day of the 82nd regular legislative session of the Texas Legislature. The House will reconvene at 10:00 am, the Senate at 11:00.

Two bills important the the LGBT community are on the Senate "intent calendar" today (a list of bills the Senate intends to vote on): one pretty good bill, and one horrifically maleficent bill. The good bill, SB 205 by Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston), would clarify and expand the student codes of conduct that school districts must adopt. Whitmire's intention is to help schools establish policies and procedures that would prevent bullying before it starts and prevent teen suicide (Read LQ's analysis of SB 205).

On the other hand, SB 723, Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) would effectively ban marriage between two people of the opposite sex if one of the partners is transgender (Read LQ's explanation of SB 723). The bill has been on the intent calendar for the last two days but has not been brought up for a vote. If it is not considered today Williams will have to place it back on the intent calendar for next week. The deadline for doing that is 4:00 pm today.

Senate rules require bills to be considered in the order they are voted out of committee, but the Senate hardly ever follows that rule. Instead they file a bill at the front of the line (called the "blocker bill") and everyone agrees not to vote on it. This means that in order for any bill that was filed after the blocker bill to be considered the Senate must take a vote to "set aside" their own rules and take up the bill "out of order." Senate Rule 22.02 says that the vote to set aside the rules requires a 2/3 majority of the members present. Effectively this requires 2/3 of the Senate to support a bill before it ever comes up for a vote. There are 31 Senators: 12 Democrats and 19 Republicans. In order for a bill to receive the 20 votes it needs to be brought up out of order at least one of the Democrats must support it.

I reported yesterday on the Dallas Voice's Instant Tea Blog that on-line rumors were suggesting Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) who represents much of Dallas' historic "gayborhood" of Oaklawn would break party lines and support the bill. His office has denied the rumors and states that he will vote against SB 723.

So that's 1 down, 11 to go. The biggest concern right now is Sen. Carlos Uresti (R-San Antonio). Uresti sits on the Senate Education Committee, which heard SB 723. He voted "present, not voting" on the committee vote to send SB 723 to the whole Senate for consideration. Because Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Southside Place) was not in the room at the time of the committee vote Uresti could have killed the bill in committee with a "Nay" vote. This doesn't necessarily mean he supports the bill. The Senate is an extremely civil place (particularly when compared with its more raucous sibling, the House); professional courtesy is of the utmost importance. In general, a committee chair will not bring a bill up for a vote unless they are confident that it has sufficient support to pass. If Uresti knew that the bill would pass a vote of the entire committee he may have decided to vote "present, not voting" out of respect for his colleagues' desires.

The good news is that even if Uresti votes "present, not voting" on the vote to take up SB 723 out of order it will still fail if the other Senate Democrats vote against it. In fact, the entire Democratic delegation could vote "present, not voting" and the bill would fail, since there would still be only 19 "yea" votes out of 31 senators present. Likewise Uresti could be absent from the vote, and if the other Democrats hold the line the vote would fail (19 is still less than 2/3 of 30).

Equality Texas has issued an urgent action alert, urging people to e-mail Senator Uresti and tell him to oppose the bill. It is also important that all of the Texas Democratic Senators hear from both constituents and non-constituents telling them to "oppose SB 723." Contact information is available HERE.

HB 1386 (Asher's Law) by Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) will be heard this morning by the House Public Health Committee in their regularly scheduled meeting at 8:00 am. The bill is named after 13 year old Asher Brown who committed suicide last fall after enduring years of abuse and harassment in school. Asher's parents, David and Amy Troung, will testify before the committee. HB 1386 is perhaps the most thoughtful, well considered and comprehensive of the anti-bullying bills passed this session - and is extremely unlikely to pass - mostly because it dares to recognize the existence of queer kids. The bill requires that school districts not discriminate against students on the basis of "the actual or perceived ethnicity, color, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, disability, religion, or national origin of the employee, student, or student's parent." (Yes, it is currently perfectly legal for schools to discriminate against their queer students.) It also, in its introduction, says that:
"youth who have or are perceived to have a certain sexual orientation are subject to pervasive discrimination, bullying, harassment, intimidation, and violence that puts their physical and mental health at risk;"
While the Public Health is probably the most queer-friendly committee in the House right now, Republican members will likely balk at creating the non-discrimination policy, arguing that it creates "special classes" of people. Which is, of course, ridiculous as I have yet to meet a person who does not have a race, a national origin, a gender identity or any of the other attributes included in the policy (other than disability). It's important that the Committee hear from Texans who support this legislation. Please contact the Public health committee and ask them to pass HB 1386 with the non-discrimination policy intact:

House Public Health Committee

Lois Kolkhorst, Chair
(512) 463-0600 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (512) 463-0600 end_of_the_skype_highlighting

Elliott Naishtat, Vice-Chair
(512) 463-0668 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (512) 463-0668 end_of_the_skype_highlighting

Carol Alvarado
(512) 463-0732 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (512) 463-0732 end_of_the_skype_highlighting

Garnet Coleman (HB 1385 author)
(512) 463-0524 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (512) 463-0524 end_of_the_skype_highlighting

Sarah Davis
(512) 463-0389 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (512) 463-0389 end_of_the_skype_highlighting

Veronica Gonzales
(512) 463-0578 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (512) 463-0578 end_of_the_skype_highlighting

Susan King
(512) 463-0718 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (512) 463-0718 end_of_the_skype_highlighting

Jodie Laubenberg
(512) 463-0186 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (512) 463-0186 end_of_the_skype_highlighting

Dr. Charles Schwertner
(512) 463-0309 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (512) 463-0309 end_of_the_skype_highlighting

Vicki Truitt
(512) 463-0690 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (512) 463-0690 end_of_the_skype_highlighting

Dr. John Zerwas
(512) 463-0657 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (512) 463-0657 end_of_the_skype_highlighting

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