Senate OKs 2 Equality Texas-backed bills targeting bullying, suicide in same day

Rep. Garnet Coleman

When was the last time the Senate passed two bills backed by Equality Texas in one day? Probably never.

Earlier we told you that the Senate voted unanimously this afternoon to approve HB 1942, an anti-bullying bill by Rep. Diane Howard, R-Arlington, that is Equality Texas’ top priority in this year’s session.

Tonight, the Senate voted 28-3 to pass a suicide prevention bill by Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston.This is the bill that was originally called Asher’s Law in honor of Asher Brown, the 13-year gay youth from the Houston area who took his own life last year in response to bullying at school.

Neither bill in its final form contains specific references or protections for LGBT youth. But the fact is that if they did, they wouldn’t have had any chance of passing the Republican-dominated Legislature.

Daniel Williams at Legislative Queery reports on Coleman’s bill:

HB 1386, the teen suicide prevention bill by Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) has passed the Texas Senate on a 28 to 3 vote. The bill instructs the Texas Department of State Health Services to develop resources designed to prevent teen suicide, including mental health counseling, crisis prevention tools and suicide prevention eduction. Schools would then have the option of implementing those programs, but would not be required to do so.

The Senate Education Committee made some substantial changes to the bill the House sent over, most notably adding provisions that prohibit a child from seeking counseling without their parent’s knowledge. For queer teens who may not be out to their parents this is a particularly cruel change that may prevent some kids who need help from seeking it. Since the Senate version of the bill is different than the House version the House must concur with the changes. If they do not a “conference committee” of 5 House members (appointed by the Speaker of the House) and 5 Senators (appointed by the Lieutenant Governor) will be formed to to work out a comprimise between the two versions.

When he laid out the bill in the Senate Rodney Ellis (D-Houston), the bill’s Senate sponsor, made what he called a “suicide pact” with the rest of the Senate to oppose any attempt by the conference committee to allow students to receive anonymous counseling. By tradition the Senate sponsor of House bills is one of the chairs of the conference committee so Ellis will be in a position to keep his pact.

Considering Ellis’ commitment (however much his choice of words may be in poor taste) and the ticking clock of a session that has less than a week left in it Coleman may choose to simply concur with the changes the Senate made and send the bill to the Governor’s desk for signing.

—  John Wright

LEGE UPDATE: Trans marriage ban all but dead; major anti-bullying bill clears Senate committee

Daniel Williams

The zombie-like resurrection of an anti-transgender marriage bill, movement by bullying bills and uncertainty about the fate of Texas’ HIV medication assistance program made for an uncertain week during this, the 19th week of the Texas Legislature’s 20-week regular session.

Last Friday, May 13, dawned with a decided pall hanging upon the Capitol. The previous evening the House had rushed to meet the midnight deadline for House bills to receive the first of their two required floor votes. Hundreds of bills, good and bad, simple and complex, failed to be heard before the deadline, and memories of the preceding night’s massacre still stung the raw, sleep-deprived nerves of elected officials and staffers alike. Bleary-eyed House members stumbled to their desks aware that another midnight deadline loomed before them: Every bill that passed in Thursday’s flurry of activity had to pass again Friday.

House Bill 1386, Rep. Garnet Coleman’s teen suicide prevention bill, had slid in just 20 minutes before Thursday’s midnight deadline. Coleman, D-Houston, began crafting the bill after the suicide of Asher Brown, a 12-year-old Houston-area boy who took his own life after enduring years of anti-gay torment at the hands of school bullies.  The bill allows school districts to work with other state and local agencies to provide counseling and resources to at-risk youth, but does not require any action from schools. When the House brought up the bill for a vote Coleman removed portions that duplicated language in House Bill 1492, the anti-bullying compromise bill drafted by the House Public Education Committee that passed the House the week before. After Coleman reassured his colleagues that HB 1386 did not require school districts to take any action but merely permitted them to work to prevent suicide if they choose to, it passed 107-to-29.

Over in the Senate, LGBT activists were waiting with baited breath. Sen. Tommy Williams, R-TheWoodlands, the author of Senate Bill 723, the infamous anti-trans marriage bill, had once again placed it on the Senate’s fast-track “intent calendar.” The bill would effectively ban opposite-sex marriage for anyone who has changed their legally recognized sex. As the day progressed the Senate took up bill after bill, but SB 723 remained on the table, untouched. Finally, the Senate adjourned without taking up the bill.

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LEGE UPDATE: Trans marriage ban on life support; suicide prevention bill advances

Daniel Williams

Acrimony in the House, the return of a transphobic Senate bill and renewed hope for community input in HIV programs marked the 18th week of the Texas Legislature’s regular session, one of the most contentious thus far.

The House had its first Saturday meeting of the session last week, and it set the tone for everything to come. House rules require 100 members to be present to establish a quorum. When the 10 a.m. meeting started, only 113 members were in the House chamber. Democrats realized that, just by walking out, they could end the business of the House, which included controversial “loser pays” changes to how lawsuits work in Texas. The legislation had already been defeated but was placed back on the House’s to-do list by GOP Gov. Rick Perry, who declared it an “emergency item.”

While the Democrats where contemplating a walk-out, Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, the author of Texas’ constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, asked for a roll call, which would have locked the House doors, preventing any members from leaving. Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, then asked about sending state troopers out to find the missing members, some of whom had gone home to celebrate Mother’s Day. A debate erupted over a threat by Republicans to “set aside the rules” using their two-thirds super majority and prevent all debate on future bills. Tempers flared. At one point Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, who is known for his even disposition, literally threw his House rule book across the room.

Things eventually settled and the House continued its business, eventually passing the contentious lawsuit legislation without allowing debate. The hurt feelings and bruised relationships would continue to influence business in the House for the rest of the week.

On Monday, Senate Bill 723, the anti-transgender marriage bill that’s been lurking on the Senate’s schedule for a month, was put back on the the “intent calendar” for Tuesday. The intent calendar is a fast-track list of bills that require two-thirds of Senators to agree to bring them up for a vote. Equality Texas, the Human Rights Campaign, the Transgender Education Network of Texas and other groups issued alerts to LGBT Texans to call their senators in hopes of finally defeating the bill.

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Right-wing Liberty Institute issues action alert in support of transgender marriage ban

Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands

Daniel Williams at Legislative Queery reports that the Texas Senate has again adjourned for the day without taking up a bill that would bar transgender people from marrying people of the opposite sex. However, The Woodlands Republican Tommy Williams’ SB 723 remains on the Senate’s calendar for Thursday. The bill, a response to the Nikki Araguz case, would remove a court order of sex change from the list of documents that can be used to obtain marriage licenses in Texas.

Daniel Williams also notes that today, the right-wing, Plano-based Liberty Institute issued an action alert calling on people to urge senators to support the anti-LGBT bill. Here’s an excerpt:

Some Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender advocates, want to thwart a Texas appeals court decision and force the state to recognize their gender (for marriage purposes) as something other than what was assigned at birth, to change their gender later on in life and force county clerks to recognize the changed gender. Such an outcome will create confusion for county clerks, for the courts and no doubt will be used by the GLBT community to undermine our marriage laws, which affirm traditional marriage, between one man and one woman.

Protect traditional marriage, support SB 723.

If you haven’t already contacted your senator and asked them to oppose this bill, this disgusting action alert from the Liberty Institute should provide plenty of motivation to do so. Email your senator by going here.

—  John Wright

Unconstitutional ‘homosexual conduct’ law to remain on Texas books for another 2 years

In his legislative column on Friday, Daniel Williams mentioned that midnight today is the deadline for House committees to vote on bills that originated in the House. Which means that, assuming they aren’t voted out of committee today, several pro-equality bills will die. As Williams details on his own blog today, those bills include measures that would remove Texas’ unconstitutional “homosexual conduct” law from the books, add gender identity/expression to the state’s hate crimes law, and prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in employment and insurance.

With a Republican supermajority in the House, no one really expected any of these bills to pass going into the session. So the fact that some of them even received committee hearings is a victory. And the good news is, a few anti-gay measures are slated to die along them, including one that would make it easier for the attorney general to block same-sex divorces, and the House version of a bill that would effectively bar transgender people from marrying people of the opposite sex. (It should be noted that the Senate version of the transgender marriage ban is still alive.)

Of course, there is always a risk that these or other anti-LGBT measures will be tacked on to other bills as amendments, but here’s hoping the Legislature is too busy from here on out with the budget and redistricting.

Speaking of the budget, last week we reported that the Senate’s version includes $19.2 million requested by the Texas HIV Medication Program to serve 3,000 anticipated new clients over the next two years. The House version of the budget left out this money, meaning low-income people with HIV/AIDS could be denied life-sustaining drugs. It’s now be up to a House-Senate conference committee to resolve the issue. On that note, the Campaign to End AIDS will hold a rally Friday at the Texas Capitol. For more info or to RSVP for the rally, contact Michelle Anderson at heavenly_gates_777@yahoo.com.

—  John Wright

LEGE UPDATE: Anti-bullying bills advance, HIV funding in jeopardy as session enters final month

Daniel Williams

Movement on anti-bullying bills, an impending budget fight in the Senate and late-night debate on redistricting in the House were the defining events of this, the 16th week of the the Texas Legislature’s regular session.

The Legislature traditionally takes a four-day weekend for Easter, so things were pretty sleepy around the Capitol until Tuesday, when a flurry of bills moved in both the House and Senate.

House Bill 2229 by Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, squeaked through the House after initially being tabled. The bill makes permanent the Texas HIV Medication Advisory Committee. Texas has a program that provides medication assistance to low-income HIV-positive people. The Advisory Committee provides input on the program from health professionals and clients. Earlier this year Department of State Health Services Commissioner Dr. David Lakey dissolved the committee until public outcry forced him to reinstate it. Coleman’s bill seeks to prevent future commissioners from similarly disbanding the committee.

HB 2229 seemed poised to pass until an amendment to the bill by Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, added a needle exchange program, a proven way to reduce the transmission of HIV and other blood-born diseases. Many House Republicans oppose such programs arguing that, by providing clean needles to IV drug users, they condone drug use. The House voted on HB 2229 and it failed to pass, 53-89.

Fearing the demise of the bill, McClendon asked for an opportunity to withdraw her amendment. After she did the House tentatively approved HB 2229, 104-36. The final vote for House approval on Wednesday was 88-57. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee must now consider the bill for it to continue to advance.

Also on Tuesday, the House gave its final approval to anti-cyber-bullying House Bill 1666. Since 2009 it has been illegal in Texas to create a fake profile on a social network website to “harm, defraud, intimidate or threaten” someone else. HB 1666 by Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, expands the current law to include non-social networking sites like Youtube or Blogger (or the comments section of the Dallas Voice). The bill next goes to the Senate Criminal Justice Committee for further consideration.

House Bill 718, which expands Texas’ law against picketing the funerals of members of the U.S. military to include a buffer three hours before and after the service, also passed the House on Tuesday. The bill, by Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Houston, is a direct response to the practice of Westboro Baptist Church’s (famous for their “God Hates Fags” slogan) practice of picketing the funerals of service members who died in the line of duty.

—  admin

What’s Brewing: Texas A&M Senate backs anti-gay measure; pastors come out for Leppert

How do the “Pastors for Leppert” feel about his appearances at gay Pride?

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1.  The Texas A&M Student Senate wants to cut funding in half for the school’s gay resource center, and divert the money to a “center for traditional and family values.” According to GLBT Aggies President Camden Breeding, the Student Senate voted Wednesday night to support a state budget amendment by Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, that would require schools with LGBT resource centers to spend an equal amount on centers for traditional and family values. The measure approved by the Student Senate, which you can read here, opposes any increase in student fees to pay for the new “traditional and family values” center, but says existing revenue should be evenly divided between the two centers. The Student Senate also agreed to advocate on behalf of Christian’s amendment as it moves through the Legislature. Well, it’s no wonder that Texas A&M is consistently ranked among the nation’s most homophobic schools. And it seems as though the notion that young people are less bigoted than their parents doesn’t necessarily hold true in Texas.

2. A bill to prohibit transgender people from marrying people of the opposite sex is yet to come up for a vote in the Texas Senate, but it could come up today, according to Daniel Williams at Legislative Queery. Williams also reports that State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, has agreed to remove enumerated categories, including sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, from Asher’s Law, a bill that would prohibit discrimination in Texas public schools.

3. Former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert continues to veer sharply to the right as he seeks the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate. A new website called Pastors for Leppert features endorsements from conservative religious leaders, including the virulently anti-gay Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church of Dallas.

—  John Wright

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.

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Rep. Workman loves 10th amendment, except when it protects gays from discrimination

Daniel Williams

By DANIEL WILLIAMS | Legislative Queery

HCR 110 by Rep. Paul Workman, R-Travis County, expresses the desire of the Texas Legislature for President Barack Obama to defend the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) against court challenges. DOMA was passed in 1996 by Congress. It prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage and allows individual states to not recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

(HCR stands for “House Concurrent Resolution.” Concurrent resolutions must be passed by both the House and Senate and — in most cases — signed by the governor. They cannot create new laws but are used to express the will of the Legislature and, in some situations, to allow the Legislature to exercise its power. HCR 110 expresses the will of the Legislature for the executive branch of the federal government to take a particular course of action. If passed it would have no binding power over the president.)

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Removal of LGBT references makes anti-bullying bills weaker, but more likely to pass

Daniel Williams

DANIEL WILLIAMS | Legislative Queery

Instant Tea reported Monday that the reporting requirement proposed by the “big” anti-bullying bills (HB 224, SB 245) will be amended so that the provision that school districts file annual reports on instances of bullying in enumerated categories will now only require a report — with the specifics to be determined by the Texas Education Commission (TEA).

(HB 224 has been filed in the House, SB 245 in the Senate. The bills are nearly identical. It is common practice to file the same legislation in both the House and the Senate. Doing so allows bills to be considered by both sides simultaneously which can speed the process of a bill becoming a law. Since the Texas Legislature only meets every other year for 140 days speed is crucial in passing any law.)

HB 224 (by Strama, D-Travis County) currently would require districts to specify in their annual reports if instances of bullying were based on the real or perceived race, ethnicity, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin or disability of the victim. SB 245 (by Davis, D-Fort Worth) requires the same enumerated report but adds gender identity and expression to the list. (Strama filed this same bill last session, also without gender identity and expression, but added it to the list of attributes in committee).

In addition to the reporting requirements both bills would require school staff, administrators, students and volunteers to attend training on how to identity and respond to bullying, would allow bullies to be transferred to different classrooms or campuses than their victims (currently only the victim may be transferred) and would allow administrators to address cyber-bullying under limited conditions.

Neither bill currently contains a provision prohibiting schools from discriminating against teachers or students on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

Let’s face it, removing the enumerated list from the reporting requirement will make these good bills less good — there is no getting around that. But (and it’s an extremely ambivalent “but”) the proposed change to these bills dramatically increases the chances of the Legislature doing something to address the issue of bullying this session.

—  admin