Tuesday, December 4, 2012

HB 238: Prohibit Employment Discrimination

Rep. Mike Villarreal
House Bill 238 by Rep. Mike Villarreal (D-San Antonio) would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. Villarreal has filed similar legislation for the last 5 sessions (78R HB 1136, 79R HB 1515, 80R HB 900, 81R HB 538, 82R HB 665).

Under current law it is illegal in Texas to discriminate in employment based on a person’s race, religion, gender, national origin, age, or disability. It remains legal to discriminate based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. There is no federal law prohibiting employment discrimination against the LGBT community (although, according to  a 2011 poll by the Center for American Progress, 9 out of 10 American voters erroneously believe that federal law does provide LGBT people employment protections).

HB 238 would allow the Texas Workforce Commission's Civil Rights Division (TWC CRD) to investigate claims of employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression in the same way that it investigates claims of discrimination based on the other protected attributes. The TWC CRD allows individuals who believe they have experienced prohibited employment discrimination to file a complaint in person in Austin, over the phone, or via notarized form. If the complaint warrants investigation the TWC CRD pursues it further. The Legislative Budget Board (an agency of the State of Texas) estimates that if employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression was prohibited that the TWC CRD would need to investigate 474 credible cases a year.

There is a great deal of evidence that employment discrimination is pervasive and widespread in Texas:
  • Men in same-sex relationships in Texas make 9% less on average than their straight married counterparts according to information from the Census Bureau,
  • Households in Texas headed by two women make one average 11% less than households headed by a man and a woman according to information from the Census Bureau,
  • In a 2010 survey 26% of transgender Texans reported losing a job because of their gender identity or expression.
Prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression has overwhelming public support. In a 2010 poll conducted by Equality Texas,
  • 75.4% of registered voters in Texas said they support ending employment and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation,
  • 69.7% said they supported ending employment and housing discrimination for transgender citizens.
With the reality of employment discrimination clear, a mechanism already in place for investigating it and strong public support for addressing the issue why has Rep. Villarreal's decade long effort to pass legislation thus far been fruitless? Because there is a disconnect between the people of the state of Texas and the 183 elected officials who create laws in Texas. If HB 238 is to become law we must bridge that disconnect, and the only way to do it is by contacting your members of the legislature and telling them that you expect their support for HB 238.

If you live in Rep. Villarreal's district please call and thank him for his support, and ask what you can do to help. You can reach him at (210) 734-893.

If you don't know who represents you go here to find out.  

Monday, December 3, 2012

HB 226: Prohibit Insurance Discrimination

Rep. Senfronia Thompson
House Bill 226 by Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston), would prohibit using sexual orientation or gender identity or expression as the basis for discrimination in insurance. Under current law insurance providers may not deny insurance or offer a different rate of insurance based on the applicant's "race, color, religion, national origin, age, gender, marital status, geographic location, disability or partial disability" unless the denial of insurance or difference in rate is based on "sound actuarial principals." HB 226 would add "sexual orientation" and "gender identity or expression" to that list.

Rep. Thompson's bill is the companion to Senate Bill 73 by Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston). The Texas legislature has two bodies: the House and the Senate. In order to become law a bill must be voted out of Committee and then pass two votes on the floor in both the House and the Senate. Companion bills allow for legislation to be considered by the House and the Senate at the same time, instead of having to pass one body, then the other. Which ever bill passes its body first (HB 226 in the House and SB 73 in the Senate) can then be substituted for the companion bill on the other side, regardless of where it is in the process. (So, for instance, if SB 73 passes committee and the two required votes in the Senate before HB 226 comes up for a vote on the House floor HB 226 can be set aside and SB 73 can receive a vote on the floor without having to go through the House committee.)

By having identical version of the insurance nondiscrimination bill in both the House and Senate Thompson and Ellis have increased the likelihood of the bill passing.

This is not the first time that insurance nondiscrimination has had versions filed in both the House and Senate. During the 82nd regular legislative session Roberto Alonzo (D - Dallas) filed the House version and Rep. Ellis filed the Senate version. Neither bill made it out of committee.

While Alonzo is a very capable and dedicated lawmaker it gives me great hope to see Thompson take the lead on this effort this year. Thompson is the senior-most Democrat in the Texas House and the second senior most member of the House as a whole. She is a tenacious advocate with an encyclopedic understanding of the legislative process and the unquestioned respect of her colleagues, and she doesn't take on fights she can't win.

With Thompson at the helm there is a better chance of insurance non-discrimination passing this session than ever before.

If you live in Rep. Thompson's district please take the time to thank her for her support and ask what you can do do help. You may call her at (713) 633-3390.

If you don't know who represents you go here to find out.