Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Day 121: Anti-Trans Marriage Bill Kept at Bay, Tensions High in the House

Today is the 121st day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature, the House returns from recess at 10 am, the Senate will reconvene at 11 am.

The Senate adjourned yesterday without taking up SB 723, the anti-trans marriage bill that has floated on and off and back on to the "intent calendar" for the last month. The bill would remove a court order changing a person's legally recognized sex from the list of documents that can be used to obtain a marriage license. The author's stated intent is to make a 1999 case from the Texas fourth court of appeals Littleton v. Prange the binding case law for all of Texas, prohibiting anyone who has changed their legally recognized sex from getting married. (Read LQ's Legislative Intent and SB 723).

Bills on the intent calendar require a 2/3 vote, or 20 yeas, of the Senate to be brought up for a vote. All Texans are urged to call your Senators and ask them to "oppose SB 723." Equality Texas has set up an easy to use form e-mail that will automatically be sent to your Senator here. There are currently 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats in the Texas Senate, which means that at least one of the Senate Democrats will have to support SB 723 for it to pass. There is a list of phone numbers for Senate Democrats here, after you've contacted your Senator please call them as well.

HB 2229, by Garnett Coleman (D-Houston) sailed through the Senate Health and Human Services Committee yesterday afternoon, passing without any objection. The bill would make permanent the Texas HIV Advisory Committee, which provides advice from service providers and clients on Texas' HIV medication assistance and prevention programs. The committee recommended that HB 2229 be placed on the Senate's "Local and Uncontested Calendar," a list on noncontroversial bills.

HB 1386, Colman's teen suicide prevention bill, is scheduled for a vote in the House today. Tensions have been running high in the House since Saturday when the absence of several, mostly freshman, Republican members gave the House Democrats the ability to shut down further proceedings by leaving. A series of parliamentary moves preceded to volley along partisan lines - first threatening to lock the chamber doors - then to send State Troopers to collect absent members. Although the dust settled and the House resumed business the bruises of that exchange have continued to show in all subsequent debate. Monday's consideration of the so-called "sanctuary cities" bill, a highly controversial measure that would require local law enforcement officers to round up undocumented immigrants without providing training on how to do so or funds to finance their new responsibilities, has done little to ease the frazzled relationships in the increasingly sleep deprived chamber. Yesterday's debate included a scathing reproachment of Speaker Joe Strauss (R-San Antonio) from Trey Martinez-Fischer (D-San Antonio). Martinez-Fischer blasted the Speaker for his poor handling of debate and hinted that, like his predecessor Tom Craddick (R-Midland), Strauss could be removed from his Speakership if he continued to disregard the traditions and procedures of the House.

With tensions high the chamber's pace has slowed to a crawl, it is likely that, although scheduled for today, HB 1386 will not be brought up until tomorrow. Tomorrow is also the last day for the House to consider House bills for the first of their two required votes.

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