Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Session's Over, What Now?

The 82nd Texas Legislature's first called session has come to an end. So what will the members of the House and Senate being doing between now and the 2012 election? Both House and Senate committees are given "interim charges" to consider while the legislature is not in session. These charges are created by the Speaker of the House (for House committees) and the Lieutenant Governor (for Senate Committees). Typically the charges include gathering information on subjects that were heavily discussed during the legislative session (but about which no action was taken) and monitoring the implementation of legislation that did pass.

Each committee creates reports detailing their findings on those charges. Often this includes holding public hearings throughout the state. These public hearings, which are often sparsely attended, are an important opportunity for everyday people to interact directly with lawmakers. Even if the hearing is being held on an issue unrelated to the queer community's struggle for equality, simply showing up, speaking, and finding some way to out yourself during your testimony is a way to force lawmakers to realize that LGBT Texans exist, and are paying attention.

The queer community had a few victories this session, including the passage of anti-bullying bill HB 1942 and teen suicide prevention bill HB 1386. The question is now whether the policy changes created by that legislation will be implemented in a way that creates real benefits for LGBT youth. One way to to help ensure the success of those bills would be for the House Public Education, House Public Health and Senate Education Committees to be charged with monitoring their implementation. Historically, however, even non-LGBT specific issues, like bullying, have rarely been included in the interim charges. (For instance, Speaker Joe Straus' interim charges to the 81st House's Public Education Committee did not include any mention of bullying, despite that issue being hotly debated in committee during the 81st regular session.)

Needless to say LGBT-specific interim charges are even rarer. So despite the legislature's lack of action this session on important issues like allowing accurate birth certificates for the children of same-sex parents, repealing the unconstitutional "homosexual conduct" law and fixing the state's broken hate crime statute, it's unlikely that either Speaker Straus or Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst will see fit to include them, or the implementation of HB 1386 and HB 1942, in the Legislature's homework assignment.

The interim charges should be out within the next couple of months. We'll post them as soon as they are available and will keep you up to date on scheduled public hearings during the legislative interim.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Former Wayne Christian Staffer David White Named as Senior Policy Advisor at the Texas Comptroller

Texas Comptroller, Susan Combs, has appointed David White as her new Senior Policy Advisor. The announcement is part of a series of staff changes at Combs' office in response to the accidental on-line publishing of personal contact information for 3.5 million Texans by the Comptroller's office.

White is the former chief of staff for Rep. Wayne Christian, whose repeated attacks on LGBT campus resource centers during the 82nd legislature have reached comical proportions. White also served as the president of the Young Conservatives of Texas from 2006 to 2009. Much of Christian's impetus for attacking resource centers came from lobbying pressure by YCT, albeit not under White's leadership. Most recently White served as political director for Rick Perry's 2010 gubernatorial campaign.

Paul Burka puts it's succinctly:
These aren’t qualifications. These are connections. And you can’t fix a real problem with someone whose only qualification is his political connections. There is a one-word description for Combs, and it is CLUELESS. Here she is, with her agency and her reputation in ruins and facing gazillion-dollar lawsuits, and she hires … a political consultant. And not just any consultant, but Wayne Christian’s chief of staff. This is classic Combs. She thinks that substantive problems require political solutions.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Governor Signs Three LGBT-Related Bills

Governor Rick Perry has signed three bills dealing with issues important to the LGBT community: HB 1942, HB 1386 and HB 2229. All three bills were passed during the Legislature's 81st regular session.

HB 1942, by Diane Patrick (R-Arlington), is designed to address bullying in Texas Public Schools. The bill allows schools to include information on preventing bullying to be included in staff development training and permits school administrators to transfer bullies to different campuses or classes than their victims (under current code only the victim may be transferred). It requires the State Board of education to include information on "awareness, prevention, identification, self-defense in response to, and resolution of and intervention in bullying and harassment" in the curriculum developed for health classes in public schools. It also requires school districts to adopt anti-bullying policies that protect people who report bullying and contain clear policies on how accusations of bullying will be addressed and creates a standard definition of bullying in the education code. (The definition of bullying created by HB 1942 is extremely narrow: in order to qualify as bullying the behavior must take place on a school campus, at a school sponsored event or in a school owned vehicle; it must physically harm another student or that student's property or threaten to do so; it must also be "severe, persistent, and pervasive;" "exploit an imbalance of power" and disrupt the educational environment.) HB 1942 does not acknowledge in any way the existence of queer students or that they are particularly targeted for bullying.

HB 1386, by Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), addresses the epidemic of teen suicide. The bill requires the State Department of Health to annually compile a list of programs and resources designed to address teen suicide. That list must then be made available to school districts which may, but are not required to, implement programs they feel are appropriate for their districts. Programs on the Department of Health's list must provide resources to assist in identifying youth at risk for suicide, and provide resources for addressing that risk. The training provided by the programs must be created for both teachers and other school staff that regularly interact with students such as law enforcement professionals and school nurses. HB 1386 does not acknowledge that LGBT youth are at particular risk of suicide.

HB 2229, also by Coleman, makes permanent the state's HIV Medication Advisory Committee. Texas has a program that assists low-income HIV-positive people with obtaining medication. The Advisory Committee is made up of health professionals and current or former clients of the program and provides on-the-ground advice on how the program should be run. The committee was previously formed by the Department of State Health Services. Since its existence was only created by agency rule the head of the agency, Commissioner Dr. David Lakey, was able to dissolve the committee earlier this year. After public outcry the committee was reformed. HB 2229 insures that only the legislature, and not the agency commissioner, has the power to dissolve the committee in the future.

It's heartening that Perry choose to sign these bills. Under the Texas Constitution the governor has 30 days after a bill is passed to either sign or veto a bill, if he does not sign the bill it becomes law anyway without his signature. There was never any indication from the Governor's office that he might veto these bills, but he still had the option of letting them become law without his signature, providing him political cover if he felt his support of the bills might become a liability. Perry's signature shows how noncontroversial these bills are. It also shows how mainstream issues like bullying and HIV prevention are if they are not connected to the queer community. While the passage of these three bills is a victory, the absence of any mention in them to LGBT people is a reminder that support for the community is still political poison in Texas.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Amendment to Ban Campus LGBT Resource Centers Defeated - Again

Late last night, as the 16 hour debate on SB 1, the "fiscal matters" bill, was drawing to a close on the House floor Wayne Christian (R-Center) offered his latest permeation of an amendment to ban LGBT resource centers from Texas Universities. In its original incarnation the amendment would have required schools that have LGBT resource centers to equally fund "family and traditional values" centers. The new version completely banned LGBT resource centers from Texas' public universities.

My post on the Dallas Voice Instant Tea Blog goes into further detail on the over half-hour debate of the amendment, and it's eventual death, but I wanted to take a second here to make an editorial observation: The first time Christian tried to destroy this valuable resource no member of the House spoke against him and only one (Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio)) questioned the need for the amendment, this time there was concerted and passionate opposition. The first time Christian tried to silence the voice of queer college students it sailed through with only 22 House members voting against, this time Trey Martinez-Fischer (D-San Antonio) threatened to sink the entire fiscal matters bill, probably the most important bill of the special session, unless Christian removed the amendment. The first time Christian sought to create an environment of closeted fear on college campuses all anyone could do was make jokes about what "pansexual" meant, this time members made statements like:
"Everybody’s not straight, people who are gay are born gay and they deserve the same rights, liberties and protections that everyone does."
-Marc Veasey (D-Fort Worth)

"You may say ‘if they’re gay, and somebody hurts them, then so what?’ But let me just remind you that those persons are somebody’s child..."
-Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston)

"I have the same feelings elicited in me about the hate and bigotry put forth by measures like this as [measures that] were [introduced] back in the pre-civil rights period when certain buzz words and statements to create fear about certain individuals [who were] different [were] brought before legislative bodies and certainly before the Texas House of representatives on multiple occasions just to create a vote based on hate, because someone was different."
-Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin)

Do [LGBT students] have the right to participate in extra-curricular activities? Do they have the right to participate in the debate team? Do they have the right to play on our football teams, on our basketball teams, on our volleyball teams?
Or should we say, because they may be gay or something else, that they do not have the right to play right along with other girls and other boys, because we are sending the wrong message and they should remain in the bleachers?”
-Sylvester Turner (D-Houston)
What changed between April 17th, when Christian's amendment passed with almost no objection, and June 9th, when allies of the LGBT community were willing to bring the entire special session to a screaming halt to stop him?

You did.

The LGBT community changed. The LGBT community spoke, with a strong and unambiguous voice and told the people who were sent to Austin to represent us that we would not sit idly by while hate and bigotry were written into our laws. We told them we expected a fight, and they fought for us.

Take Raphael Anchia (D-Dallas), historically Anchia's been one of the stronger allies the queer community has in the House, but when Christian first offered his amendment Anchia voted "present, not voting." His aide explained to the Dallas Voice that the vote was intended to be a protest of what Anchia considered a ridiculous piece of legislation.

The LGBT community didn't see a it as a protest, we saw it as someone watching us being attacked and not doing anything about it, and we let Anchia know it. This time, when Christian offered his amendment, Anchia was one of the first at bat and asked Christian what might have been the most pertinent question of the evening: "What is your gender identity?" To which Christian replied "I'm a heterosexual father of three." Showing a better understanding of gender than most straight, cisgender men Anchia retorted "No, that's your [sexual orientation], what's your gender identity?" Anchia pushed Christian to understand that, just like everyone else, he has a gender identity, that's it's not some foreign attribute that only wierdos posses, but a universal attribute that everyone shares.

It is easy sometimes to despair, to think that efforts to influence our elected officials will never create dramatic change, and the truth is they won't. The change they create is subtle. Talking to our elected officials isn't going to turn a rabid homophobe like Christian into an ally, but it can push a quite ally like Anchia to become a vocal advocate. That's the key.

We must must constantly communicate with those charged with making these important decisions so that one day instead of Wayne Christian hating queer people and introducing amendments to make his hate statutory, he just hates queer people while quietly muttering to himself in the corner; so that a conservative representative who cringed at the Christian amendment but voted for it anyway will have the courage to vote "nay" next time; and so that a representative who this time voted against the amendment, but didn't take the opportunity to publicly and loudly decry homophobia on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives will find the courage next time to stand up and say "This amendment hurts me, because it hurts my fellow Texans."

While we work towards that day, please take the opportunity to call those members who fought for us on the House floor and tell them "thank you":

Raphael Anchia (512) 463-0746
Joaquin Castro (512) 463-0669
Dawnna Dukes (512) 463-0506
Trey Martinez-Fischer (512) 463-0616
Borris Miles (512) 463-0518
Senfronia Thompson (512) 463-0720
Sylvester Turner (512) 463-0554
Marc Veasey (512) 463-0716

There were two record votes taken on amendments offered to the Christian Amendments. As soon as those are available on the Texas Legislature Online LQ's House score card will be updated.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Worst 5 Texas Senators on LGBT issues

The 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature has come to an end. It was perhaps the best legislative session for queer Texans ever with not one, but two anti-bullying bills passing and the HIV Medication Advisory Committee's future protected by statute. Multiple bills and amendments targeting the community were introduced but were all defeated. Although we didn't get everything we needed, and are still waiting for the Governor's signature on the three bills mentioned above, all in all it was a very good session for LGBT issues.

We here at Legislative Queery have crunched the numbers and ranked the 31 Texas Senators based on their votes and authored legislation from the 82nd regular session. The rankings do not take into consideration past votes or legislation or public statements by the elected officials. You can read how we arrived at the rankings HERE.

#27 (tie)
Glen Hegar (R-Katy)
Score: 40 points
Grade: F

What can you say about Glen Hegar? He supported the compromise anti-bulling "super" bill HB 1942 that came out of the House and... no, that's it, that's the only nice thing you can say about Glen Hegar's voting record on LGBT issues this session. Hegar voted against both HB 1346, the teen suicide prevention bill and HB 2229 which insures public input in the Texas HIV Medication Assistance Program. At least he didn't file any anti-LGBT bills, which is more than can be said for some people on this list.
#27 (tie)
Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands)
Score: 40 points
Grade: F

Poor Tommy Williams, he really thinks that he should be in charge of telling people what their gender is. Unfortunately for him (and fortunately for everyone else), that's not the way the law works. So Williams decided to change the law and filed SB 723 to insure that whatever gender people where assigned at birth would be their gender forever. It's only because of the tireless efforts of thousands of LGBT activist and allies across the nation that he was unsuccessful.
SB 723 would have guaranteed Williams the bottom spot on the list, if not for his support of both HB 1942, the anti-bullying "super" bill, and HB 1386, the teen suicide prevention bill.
#29 (tie)
Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville)
Score: 30 points
Grade: F

If you're asking "who is Robert Nichols?" you're not alone. Nichols, who's served in the Senate since 2007, hasn't made waves this session the way some of his colleagues have, but it's the quite ones you have to watch out for. Nichols opposed both of Rep. Garnet Coleman's queer issue bills that came through the Senate (Coleman was ranked LQ's best member of the Texas House on LGBT issues): HB 1386 (teen suicide prevention) and HB 2229 (insuring public input on the Texas HIV Medication assistance program).
#29 (tie)
Dan Patrick (R-Houston)
Score: 30 points
Grade: F

In contrast to Nichols, the other #29 seed, Dan Patrick has been very visible this session. Patrick is considering a run for the U.S. Senate and spent most of the session polishing his "small government" bona fides in preparation, and by small government he means cutting programs to children, the elderly and the poor while ensuring that the oil and gas industry keeps its tax breaks and the state keeps paying Hollywood to produce movies that make Texas look good. Patrick did support HB 1386, the teen suicide prevention bill, but opposed both HB 1942 (anti-bullying "super" bill) and HB 2229 (insuring public input on the Texas HIV Medication assistance program).
Incidentally, Patrick represents David and Amy Truong, the parents of Asher Brown who's suicide inspired HB 1386. The Truongs diligently lobbied Patrick for his support of the bill, proving the value of personal contact between constituents and elected officials.
Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury)
Score: 0 points
Grade: F

Birdwell was the only freshman in the Senate this year and he came to Austin with a simple mission: vote against things. Birdwell managed to vote against more bills than any other member of the Senate this session including all three bills used in this ranking: HB 1386 (teen suicide prevention), HB 1942 (anti-bullying "super" bill) and HB 2229 (insuring public input on the Texas HIV Medication assistance program).

We've already published the Top 5 Senators and the Top 10 House Members and Worst 10 House members and will get the complete lists up soon, but in the meantime take a look at how LQ arrived at the scores and tell us what you think. Any ranking system like this naturally involves the biases of the people compiling the list. LQ welcomes comments, suggestions, rants and criticisms regarding the rankings.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Day 3: HB 1 Was SB 1811, No You Can't Go Back to SB 1811

Today is the 3rd day of the first called session of the 82nd Texas Legislature. The House returns from recess at 10 am, the Senate reconvenes at 1 pm.

A note on bill numbers during special session: Bills filed in the Texas Legislature are assigned designations based on the chamber in which they were introduced (HB=House Bill, SB=Senate Bill) and the order they were filed. At the conclusion of the 82nd regular session last Monday the bill designation sequence reset, so HB 1 from the 82nd Legislature's regular session is different than HB 1 from the 82nd first special session. From here on out LQ will be referring to bills from the first special session by their bill number and bills from the 82nd regular sessions as "82(R) [bill number]." Many, if not most, of the bills filed during the special session will be identical or substantially similar to bills from the regular session, when that is the case we will endeavor to provide both bill numbers for reference

The House Appropriations Committee meets this morning at 9:00 am to receive public testimony on HB 1 [82(R) SB 1811]. The "fiscal matters" bill contains provisions that accompany the state budget adopted during the regular session, clarifying how funds are to be distributed and adjusting fees levied on certain kinds of transactions and payment schedules for those fees. It's a fascinating read. Among other things the bill would reduce the amount of time consumers can collect remaining funds on expired gift cards (did you know money left on expired gift cards gets turned over the state after five years, now it will be three) and creates a $50 fee if you sell your used car yourself and don't file the proper paperwork to inform the state of the sale. It's a very long document that covers a lot of ground, but it's well worth the read.

Why is a blog that covers queer issues talking about a fiscal matters bill? Because back when HB 1 was 82(R) SB 1811, Wayne Christian (R-Center) prefiled two amendments that would have defunded and banned LGBT resource centers from Texas universities. He can do that because the bill governs the way that some funds are distributed to universities, since the bill is already talking about how universities spend money the issue of spending any of that money, even indirectly, on LGBT resource centers could be germane. Christian eventually withdrew his amendments (More HERE). The risk of Christian attempting to add his amendments to HB 1 remains.

During a regular session there are rules in place that slow down the process so that the public has time to review what's going on and tell their lawmakers what they think (for instance committees must give five days notice before hearings, and the House and Senate have to wait 24 hours before approving each others amendments). During a special session those rules get thrown out the window. This means the process can go more quickly, but it also makes it harder for the public to respond to things like bad amendments. We'll have to pay careful attention to be certain that Christian's amendments aren't stuck in during the special session.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Top 5 Texas Senators on LGBT Issues

The 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature has come to an end. It was perhaps the best legislative session for queer Texans ever with not one, but two anti-bullying bills passing and the HIV Medication Advisory Committee's future protected by statute. Multiple bills and amendments targeting the community were introduced but were all defeated. Although we didn't get everything we needed, and are still waiting for the Governor's signature on the three bills mentioned above, all in all it was a very good session for LGBT issues.

We here at Legislative Queery have crunched the numbers and ranked the 31 Texas Senators based on their votes and authored legislation from the 82nd regular session. The rankings do not take into consideration past votes or legislation or public statements by the elected officials. You can read how we arrived at the rankings HERE.

#1Rodney Ellis (D-Houston)
Score: 99 points
Grade: A

Ellis's district includes the historic "gayborhood" of Montrose in Houston as well as most of the district of Rep. Garnet Coleman, LQ's top ranked member of the House. It's largely his sponsorship of Coleman's HB 1386 (teen suicide prevention) and HB 2229 (making permanent the HIV Medication Advisory Committee) that elevated Ellis to the top of this list. His perfect voting record and authorship of the Senate version of HB 2229 (SB 1821) didn't hurt either.

#2Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth)
Score: 98 points
Grade: A

It seems unfair that Davis is number two and not number one: she filed the only piece of Senate legislation this session to even mention sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (her comprehensive anti-bullying bill SB 242) and was on the forefront of every anti-bullying effort in the Senate this session, co-authoring Whitmire's SB 205 (expanding and clarifying anti-bullying portions of student codes of conduct) and co-sponsoring HB 1942 (the anti-bullying "super" bill). It's only Ellis' sponsorship of Rep. Coleman's House bills that inched Davis out of the number one spot.
Davis previously held the Fort Worth City Council seat currently held by Joel Burns (of "it gets better" fame) and is outspoken and passionate in her support of the LGBT community.

#3Judith Zaffirini (D-Larado)
Score: 96 points
Grade: A

Zaffirini's anti-bullying legislation didn't get much press this session. She filed two excellent bills: SB 42, which would have included cyber-bullying in the statutory definition of bullying; and SB 66, which would have closed a loophole in the Education Code that prevents students who have been transferred in the last year from being sent to alternative school, even for egregious or violent behavior.
Zaffirini is known for her strong work ethic. In 23 years of service in the Texas Senate she has never missed a vote. She applied that dedication to the issue of school bullying this year, supporting every anti-bullying bill that came to the Senate floor.
#4 (tie)
Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio)
Score: 95 points
Grade: A

Van de Putte was a co-author on Davis' comprehensive anti-bullying bill SB 242 and eventually sponsored anti-bullying "super" bill HB 1942 in the House.
A pharmacist, Van de Putte is known for her passionate advocacy for children, both in the House where she served for 10 years and in the Senate where she's served since 1999.

#4 (tie)
John Whitmire (D-Houston)
Score: 95 points
Grade: A

Whitmire spoke last fall at a public hearing on bullying about the need to address the issue without creating laws that turned children into criminals for making stupid or cruel choices. He put his money where is mouth is this session by filing SB 205, which carefully laid out guidelines for the anti-bullying provisions of student codes of conduct school districts are required to adopt. Unfortunately the bill died in the House Public Education Committee, but some of its ideas were incorporated in anti-bullying "super" bill HB 1942, which Whitmire co-authored.
The longest currently serving member of the Texas Senate, Whitmire carries significant influence among his peers which this session he chose to use in defense of the victims of bullying.

That's the top five. We've already published the Top 10 House Members and the Worst 10 House members and will get the rest of the list up soon including the Worst 5 Texas Senators, but in the meantime take a look at how LQ arrived at the scores and tell us what you think. Any ranking system like this naturally involves the biases of the people compiling the list. LQ welcomes comments, suggestions, rants and criticisms regarding the rankings.