Thursday, April 2, 2015

Legislative Update for April 2: Youth Homelessness and Appropriations

This week in your Legislative Update: The House Human Services Committee passes important Youth Homelessness legislation and the House debates the budget

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I’m Daniel with Equality Texas and this is the legislative update for Friday, April 3rd, the 81st day of the Texas Legislature’s 140 day regular session.

On Monday the House Human Services Committee heard HB 679 by Rep. Sylvester Turner of Houston, which would conduct a study of Youth Homelessness in Texas. Up to 40% of homeless youth are LGBT identified and organizations around the state are working to figure out how to best serve this vulnerable population. Rep. Turner’s bill would provide needed information about the scope of the problem and potential new funding sources. After the hearing the committee unanimously voted the bill out of committee. It’s now in the House Calendar’s committee which will determine when the bill will be heard on the House floor.

On Tuesday the House tackled the nearly 900 page long appropriations bill. This bill, HB 1, will form the budget for almost all of state government for the next 2 years. Over 300 amendments were offered to the budget and house members spent over 17 hours debating them.

Drew Springer, of Munster offered two amendments, one designed to keep school districts from establishing employee benefit programs that are inclusive of same-gender spouses, and one designed to prevent transgender students from participating in school athletic teams. The first was pulled from consideration following massive public outcry. The second was pulled following a heated floor debate between Rep. Celia Israel and Rep. Springer. Both amendments were defeated and it’s because people like you spoke up and because people like Rep. Israel are in the capitol fighting for equality.

Also during the budget debate, Rep. Coleman offered an amendment to require enumerated reporting of discrimination and harassment in public schools. This is the 6th session that Rep. Coleman has offered the amendment and although it did not pass, it received the support of 49 of the 150 House members. This is up from 44 last session! That’s 5 more pro-equality votes and that’s something to celebrate!

The house also adopted an amendment from Rep. Spitzer to divert three million dollars in HIV/STD prevention funding to abstinence focused education. Rep. Spitzer had originally filed amendments to divert twenty million in funding but was talked back to three million. Both the House Committee version of the budget and the current Senate version of the budget increase HIV/STD spending by $2.2 million. The house version is now three million less. The final number will be set by a conference committee that will decide on an amount that is in between what the House picked and what the Senate picked. We will continue to monitor the budget carefully as it progresses through the process.

Also on Tuesday, Equality Texas joined our partners at Legalize Human, the Transgender Education Network of Texas and the Texas Two-Spirit Society in observing International Transgender Day of Visibility at the capitol. We had a great turnout and I want to thank everyone who attended!
Next week:

On Wednesday the House State Affairs Committee will hear HB 4105 by Rep. Cecil Bell.
HB 4105 attempts to stem the tide of the freedom to marry by refusing funding to maintain governmental offices that may be required by court order to recognize equal access to marriage. The bill also requires that County Clerks send all fees collected in association with the issuance of marriage license to the Secretary of State and then instructs the Secretary of State to return those funds only to those counties which do not comply with court orders requiring the issuance of marriage licenses to loving, committed same-gender couples.

Marriage says “we are a family” in a way that no other word does. Marriage is one of the few times where people make a public promise of love and responsibility for each other and ask our friends and family to hold us accountable. Restricting the freedom to marry runs counter to basic Texas values like self-determination and the freedom of people to live their lives without government interference.
You can use our ACTION CENTER to e-mail Rep. Bell, we’ll put the link in the notes.

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