House panel hears bills to remove ‘homosexual conduct’ law, add trans hate crimes protections

Daniel Williams

By DANIEL WILLIAMS | Legislative Queery

Four bills that would improve the lives of LGBT Texans were heard by the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on Tuesday. The Committee is responsible for making recommendations to the state House of Representatives on bills that effect the Texas Penal Code. The first step in that process is to hold a public hearing. Any member of the public may testify for, or against, a bill during the hearing.

The first bill, House Bill 1909 by Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, amends the state’s law against “indecency with a child” to provide LGBT teens with the same protections as straight teens. Currently, the law contains a provisions that allows consensual sexual contact between a person under the age of 17 and a person who is no more than three years older. Dubbed the “Romeo and Juliet” rule, the exception recognizes that teenagers engage in sexual behavior with their boyfriends/girlfriends and that prosecuting “heavy petting” by high school sweethearts serves no purpose.

However, there’s a catch! When the Romeo and Juliet rule was created in 1973, “homosexual conduct” was still an enforceable crime in Texas. The authors of the exception were very careful that it only apply to couples “of the opposite sex.” Coleman’s bill removes the opposite sex requirement to give “Juliet & Juliet” the same protections as their straight contemporaries. Dennis Coleman, executive director of Equality Texas, testified in favor of the bill. There was no opposition.

Next, the committee heard House Bill 2227, also by Coleman. Texas law allows prosecutors to seek tougher sentences for crimes committed due to the perpetrator’s bias against people with specific attributes, including “race, color, disability, religion, national origin or ancestry, age, gender, or sexual preference.” HB 2227 would add “gender identity and expression” to that list.

—  admin

References to sexual orientation, gender identity to be removed from TX anti-bullying bills

Chuck-Smith
Chuck Smith

Specific references to LGBT youth will be removed from two anti-bullying bills backed by Equality Texas to improve their chances of passage and de-politicize the issue, Instant Tea has learned.

One of the bills, House Bill 224 by State Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, is scheduled for a committee hearing Tuesday.

Chuck Smith, deputy director of Equality Texas, said Monday that a substitute for HB 224 will be introduced during the hearing that removes all enumerated categories — including sexual orientation — from a provision requiring school districts to report incidents of bullying to the state.

Instead, the substitute bill will direct the Texas education commissioner to specify what types of bullying must be reported. Smith said enumerated categories will also be removed from a companion bill in the Senate, SB 242 by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth. Davis’ bill as originally drafted included both sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

“If they were all there it likely wouldn’t pass,” Smith said, referring to the enumerated categories. “At the end of the day, the reporting part is not important compared to the rest of the guts of the bill.”

HB 224 and SB 242 would establish uniform definitions for bullying and cyberbullying in the state education code, and require districts to create training programs for students, parents, staff and volunteers. The bills would also allow officials to transfer bullies to different classes or campuses than their victims.

Strama’s HB 224 is scheduled for a hearing at 2 p.m. Tuesday in the House public education committee. It’s one of three bills backed by Equality Texas scheduled for committee hearings Tuesday.

HB 172, by Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, would launch a study on the effectiveness of the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act. HB 172 is scheduled for a hearing at 10:30 a.m. in the House criminal jurisprudence committee.

HB 130, by Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, would incorporate an anti-bullying hotline into the state’s existing Texas Abuse/Neglect Hotline. HB 130 is scheduled for a hearing at 2 p.m. in the House human services committee. 

Smith said it’s unlikely that any of the bills will be voted on Tuesday. You can watch committee hearings live on the Legislature’s website. For more information on Equality Texas’ legislative agenda, go here. To register for the group’s lobby day on Monday, March 7, go here.

UPDATE: The full text of the substitute bill is here. Smith also had this to say on Facebook:

“I would have preferred a headline like, ‘House Public Ed Committee to hear landmark anti-bullying bill that will protect every child based upon any actual or perceived personal characteristics, behavior, or belief.’ That’s what’s IN the bill and EVERY child will be protected. The enumerated references were removed from reporting guidelines, not who is covered by the bill.”

—  John Wright

Texas House committees and pro-LGBT bills

DANIEL WILLIAMS  |  Legislative Queery

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus has finally announced the committee assignments for the 82nd Texas House. As I predicted last month the partisan breakdown of the committee chairs roughly reflects the distribution of party control in the House with 11 Democratic chairs and 25 Republicans (not including the four select and joint committee chairs, all Republicans).

House committees that queer Texans will want to watch very carefully:

Public Education — Will get the anti-bullying bills. Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, scheduled the hearing for HB 1323 (last session’s anti-bullying bill) very late last session, but he did schedule a hearing and the committee eventually voted to send the bill to the floor for a vote of the whole House. Unfortunately, time ran out last session (more info on HB 1323 is here). Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, whose HB 224 is expected to be the water bearer for anti-bullying bills, is on the committee this session.

Public Health – Will get HB 405, which would allow same-sex parents to get accurate birth certificates for their children. Chairwoman Lois Kolkhorst, R-Austin, was visibly moved by testimony last session on this bill. Let’s hope that causes her to schedule it for an early hearing.

Criminal Jurisprudence – Will get HB 604, the repeal of Texas’s unconstitutional sodomy law and HB 172, the study of the effectiveness of the Texas Hate Crimes Act. Chairman Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, has a solid record of voting in the best interest of queer Texans, but repealing the unconstitutional sodomy law, however common-sense, is going to be a hard sell. Plus, with virulent homophobes Wayne Christian, Bill Zedler and Will Hartnett on the committee, it seems unlikely that common sense will beat out bigotry. The Hate Crimes study has a better chance. It made it out of committee last session, but it’s hard to predict what will happen this session.

Insurance – Will get HB 208 prohibiting insurance companies from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. Chairman John Smithee, R-Amarillo, hasn’t let this bill through in past sessions, and I’d be shocked if he lets it through this session. Smithee takes every chance he can get to hurt queer Texans. He’s not likely to pass this chance up, either.

State Affairs – Will get HB 665, which would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. This bill, or a version of it, has been filed every session for over a decade, and it never gets a hearing. While new Chairman Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, is an immense improvement over old Chairman Burt Solomons, it’s unlikely that this bill will go anywhere.

Now that we have committees, bills are going to start moving left and right. The 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature is finally getting going!

—  admin