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.

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