Equality Texas backing 'Romeo and Juliet Fair Defense Act' as 2009 session begins to heat up

Posted on 03 Apr 2009 at 10:39am

If a 17-year-old MALE engages in “heavy petting” with a 16-year-old MALE in Texas, the older individual can be charged with a second-degree felony and sentenced to up to 20 years in prison. On the other hand, if the older person is a male and the younger person is a female, the older person can argue an “affirmative defense” and have the charge dismissed on that basis. No such protection exists for same-sex relationships, which to me is pretty alarming. One would hope that a conviction under this statute would be overturned by an appellate court based on equal protection, but that would come only after a teenager is jailed, prosecuted and sentenced. How many lives would be destroyed in this process?

I wrote about this discriminatory anti-gay criminal statute in this post the other day, but I wanted to follow up by noting that contrary to what I stated, Equality Texas is now formally backing legislation that would fix this problem. The statewide LGBT advocacy group sent out a press release this morning noting that the bill was heard in committee on Wednesday, with Equality Texas Political Director Randall Terrell testifying in support of it. The bill, HB 3564, is known as the Romeo and Juliet Fair Defense Act and is sponsored by Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston. The bill was left pending in committee and could come up for a vote in the next few weeks.

This was the third pro-equality bill to receive a committee hearing thus far in 2009. One of the bills received a favorable recommendation but has yet to be scheduled for a vote on the House floor. The other two bills are still pending in committee.

I’ve posted the full text of Equality Texas’ latest legislative update after the jump. The session is now past its halfway point, and things should really start heating up in the next few weeks. For more, go to www.equalitytexas.org.

Update: This Week in the Texas Lege

Friday, April 3, 2009

While Vermont and Iowa are in the national news today with tremendous legislative and judicial victories for marriage equality, we want to give you a quick update on the progress being made right here in Texas on Equality Texas’ legislative agenda.

The Texas Legislature is 81 days into its 140-day session and Equality Texas has already had three (3) public hearings on legislative agenda bills in House committees:

Hate Crimes Study – HB 616 by Representative Veasey,
Anti-Bullying Bill – HB 1323 by Representative Strama, and
Romeo and Juliet Fair Defense Act – HB 3564 by Representative Coleman.

These three bills will continue to be lobbied to advance them through the Calendars Committee and onto the House floor.  Additional agenda bills are being worked to secure public hearings.

The House and Senate are currently adjourned until Monday, April 6th.  Here’s a quick run-down on the events of this past week:

Monday, March 30

Equality Texas delivered 2,165 signed petitions in support of The Freedom from Workplace Discrimination Act – HB 538 by Representative Villarreal.  This bill would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.

The petitions were delivered to Rep. Villarreal, who will use them in his efforts to secure a public hearing on the bill before the House Committee on State Affairs.

Tuesday, March 31

A public hearing was held before the House Committee on Public Education on the Anti-Bullying Bill – HB 1323 by Representative Strama.  Rep. Strama’s bill not only acknowledges that bullying and harassment continue to occur in Texas schools, but that harassment is different in today’s technological environment.  The bill also acknowledges that the state doesn’t really know why incidents of bullying and harassment continue to occur.  Finally, the bill takes proactive steps to deal with the problem.

Testimony in support of the bill was offered by Equality Texas political director Randall Terrell, as well as several professional educators, victims of bullying, and parents of bullying victims.  Professional education organizations signing on in support of HB 1323 include the Association of Texas Professional Educators, the Texas State Teachers Association, and the Texas Federation of Teachers.

HB 1323 was left pending in committee.  Equality Texas expects the House Committee on Public Education to vote on the bill within the next two to three weeks.  Please watch for Equality Texas Action Alerts requesting your help in advancing this bill.

Wednesday, April 1

A public hearing was held before the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence on the Romeo and Juliet Fair Defense Act – HB 3564 by Representative Coleman.  This bill would make the affirmative defense of age-appropriate dating available to all young couples, not just straight kids.

“Heavy petting” is classified as a crime for minors under Texas law. It is classified as “indecency with a child”.  Currently, there is a defense to prosecution for age-appropriate dating by straight kids. This defense is not available to gay or lesbian kids. HB 3564 would make the affirmative defense of age-appropriate dating available to all young couples, not just straight kids.

Equality Texas political director Randall Terrell testified in support of the bill.  HB 3564 was left pending in committee.

Thursday, April 2

CSHB 824 by Representative Hochberg was passed on third reading by the full House of Representatives with a vote of 83 ayes, 60 nays, and 1 present not voting.  This bill is not a part of Equality Texas legislative agenda, but is being monitored as it is a predictor of support for bills in our agenda.

Currently, the James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Act defines and provides penalties for hate crime offenses committed by adults.  The same conduct by juveniles, however, is not addressed.  CSHB 824 allows for a finding of conduct constituting a hate crime in a juvenile court proceeding.

The 83-60 House floor vote in support of CSHB 824 will be used by Equality Texas in our lobbying efforts on the Hate Crimes Study – HB 616 by Representative Veasey.

Lobbying efforts are also continuing to secure public hearings on additional bills, including the Competitive Insurance Benefits Bill – HB 861 by Representive Naishtat before the House Committee on Insurance.

Next Week

The pace will continue to quicken as committee hearings and floor debates ramp up.  Please watch for Equality Texas Action Alerts, participate in them, and advocate for equal rights for all Texans.

Lobbying costs money.  We have received 23 contributions totalling $1,115 toward our fundraising goal of $5,000 by April 15th.  Please give what you are able to help make equality happen.

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