Community warned to ‘stay alert’ during final month of 2009 session

Posted on 30 Apr 2009 at 6:49pm
By John Wright News Editor

6 of 17 bills backed by Equality Texas have had committee hearings

AUSTIN — Asked what his message would be to the LGBT community with one month to go in this year’s state legislative session, Equality Texas Executive Director Paul Scott summed it up as follows:

"Things are going to start happening a lot faster, so just stay alert."

In an interview with Dallas Voice this week, Scott noted that six of 17 bills backed by Equality Texas already have been heard by House committees this year, which he said is the most since at least 2001. And two pro-equality bills have passed out of committee, an increase from zero during the most recent legislative session in 2007.

But the overall relative success of the 2009 session for Equality Texas and the LGBT community as a whole likely will be decided in the final furious weeks. The five-month session ends June 1.

Equality Texas has set a goal of getting at least one pro-equality bill through the House this year, and the two that have advanced out of committee are considered to have the best shot.

One of the bills would launch a study of the state’s hate crimes act to determine why it isn’t being used more often, while the other would require school districts to report incidents of anti-gay bullying.

Both bills await scheduling by the Calendars Committee for a vote by the full House.

"We still feel like there are strong chances those will get onto the floor," Scott said.

If not, they could still be introduced as amendments, as could other pro-equality measures. Of course, the amendment process also poses a risk of anti-gay attacks.

"I think the opportunities are more so, to be honest with you, for us trying to add amendments that are pro-equality as opposed to [having] anti-equality [amendments introduced]," Scott said. "We’re definitely working behind the scenes on bills that are coming up, looking at what are some opportunities."

Scott said Equality Texas is also hoping for more committee hearings on pro-equality bills by May 11, which is the deadline for legislation to be forwarded to the Calendars Committee.

The organization has been pushing especially hard for a committee hearing on a bill known as Texas ENDA, which prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

However, the hearing hasn’t been scheduled by Carrollton Republican Rep. Burt Solomons, chairman of the Committee on State Affairs.

"This goes to show you, sometimes even though you may have substantial changes at the Capitol, certain committees can be a barrier," Scott said. "We’re not getting any traction with him [Solomons] in getting this to move forward."

For more info, go to www.equalitytexas.org.

E-mail wright@dallasvoice.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 1, 2009.

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