It’s been a good week for pro-LGBT bills in the Texas Legislature.
Three bills backed by Equality Texas were referred to House committees and another three were filed as lawmakers started getting down to business in the 2011 session.
“There was kind of a flurry of activity this week,” said Chuck Smith, deputy director of Equality Texas. “The lower your bill number is, the greater opportunity you have to have a committee hearing sooner rather than later. It’s possible that either the birth certificate [bill] or some of the bullying bills may have hearings in the next couple weeks, and that’s certainly positive.”
HB 415, by Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, would allow same-sex parents to record both of their names on an adopted child’s birth certificate. The bill was referred Wednesday to the House Committee on Public Health. Two years ago, Anchia’s birth certificate bill received a very favorable hearing in the same committee, Smith said.
“There’s a decent chance we could have another good hearing. I’m hopeful that we might be able to win a vote in that committee,” he said, adding that testimony two years ago came from children of same-sex parents who told legislators they merely want accurate birth certificates. “It’s a pretty straightforward and compelling argument.”
On the anti-bullying front, Smith said Equality Texas was asked this week to testify in support of a bill that would establish a statewide anti-bullying hotline. HB 130, by Rep. Carol Alvarado, is not LGBT-specific but could receive a committee hearing as early as Monday.
“The bill is trying to blend this into existing family violence hotlines ,” Smith said. “The goal here is, obviously, given the budget crisis, anything that’s going to cost additional money isn’t going to have a chance in hell.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, introduced a bill Wednesday that calls for the state to develop a comprehensive suicide prevention program for middle, junior and high schools. The bill, an updated version of Coleman’s Dignity for All Students Act from previous sessions, would also ban anti-LGBT bullying, harassment and discrimination in public schools.
Another bill filed this week, SB 741 by State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, would ban discrimination in insurance based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. Ellis’ bill is the Senate companion to HB 208, by Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, which was referred to the House Insurance Committee this week. Smith said the insurance bills are of particular importance to the transgender community, whose members often have difficulty obtaining health coverage.
Elsewhere on the insurance front, State Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, filed a bill Thursday that would allow state university systems to provide benefits to “qualified individuals,” including the same-sex partners of employees. Smith said HB 1492 is similar to bills Naishtat has filed in previous sessions, with one exception: To avoid a fiscal note, the state wouldn’t pay any portion of insurance premiums for the qualified individuals.
“The employee would pay the premium for the partner, but they would be eligible for the plan,” he said.
On another positive note, Smith said no anti-LGBT bills have been filed thus far, and he hasn’t heard rumblings of any.
“In terms of priority, picking on the gays, we’re kind of back in the line behind picking on immigrants and picking on women’s choice,” he said. “There certainly are groups that have a much bigger target on them this session than we do.”
Smith said Equality Texas is busy getting ready for Lobby Day on March 7.
“There’s a real possibility to have some legislative success on some of these bills, particularly with regard to birth certificates and with regard to anti-bullying legislation,” Smith said. “Anyone who has the ability to be in Austin on March 7 should be. If you can’t come to Austin, your state representative and your state senator have an office in our hometown.”