What’s Brewing: Hearing today in suit over Perry’s day of prayer; parole fought for gay man’s killer

Several elected officials have joined the fight to keep Jon Buice behind bars for the 1991 hate crime murder of gay banker Paul Broussard, pictured.

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. A federal judge will hear arguments today in a lawsuit that seeks to bar Texas Gov. Rick Perry from promoting or participating in his anti-gay day of prayer on Aug. 6 in Houston. The lawsuit was filed earlier this month by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based group of atheists and agnostics that contends the governor’s involvement in the event violates the separation of church and state. Meanwhile, it’s still unclear what Perry’s role will be in the day of prayer or whether he’ll speak at the gathering.

2. In any case, Gov. Perry appears to be sticking to his position that issues like marriage equality and abortion should be left up to the states under the 10th amendment. Perry said Wednesday that if Roe. v. Wade were overturned, he’d support allowing states to legalize abortion. Last week Perry said he’s “fine” with New York’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage. Both stances have landed him in hot water with social conservatives. “You either have to believe in the 10th amendment or you don’t,” Perry said. “You can’t believe in the 10th Amendment for a few issues and then something that doesn’t suit you, you say, ‘Well we really rather not have that state decide that.’”

3. Several elected officials from the Houston area have joined the fight to keep Jon Buice behind bars for the 1991 hate crime murder of gay banker Paul Broussard, The Houston Chronicle reports. Buice, who’s served 20 years of his 45-year sentence, was granted parole earlier this month and is set to be released sometime in October. But elected officials have joined Broussard’s mother, LGBT advocates and others in calling on parole commissioners to revisit their decision to release Buice. Those who’ve written letters to the the state parole board include Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos, state Sens. John Whitmire and Rodney Ellis, and state Reps. Jessica Farrar and Garnet Coleman. To submit your own letter opposing Buice’s release, go here.

—  John Wright

State Rep. Garnet Coleman asks parole board not to release gay-bashing murderer Jon Buice

State Rep. Garnet Coleman

The Texas Independent reports that State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, a longtime LGBT ally, is asking the Board of Pardons and Paroles to reverse its recent decision granting parole to Jon Buice, convicted in the brutal murder of gay Houston banker Paul Broussard in 1991. Buice has served only 20 years of his 45-year sentence.

Coleman told the Texas Independent that the “heinous nature of the crime” and the fact that Buice and his friends were deliberately targeting people leaving a gay club, guided him to fight Buice’s parole each time it has come before the board since 2003.

“This was Matthew Shepard before there was Matthew Shepard,” Coleman said, a refrain often invoked about Broussard’s murder, which predated hate-crime legislation in Texas by a decade.

“Switch the circumstances, say it was a guy who came in from Conroe and went out and started hunting black people to kill. Most people would be outraged,” Coleman said, “or if it was a group of black people.”

To read Rep. Coleman’s full letter to the parole board, go here. Equality Texas is asking people to join Coleman by writing their own letters to the parole board. For a guide on what to write, read Equality Texas’ letter here. Broussard’s mother, Nancy Rodriguez, has requested that she be copied on all letters at Nrodriguez5257@att.net. The letters should be emailed to the following people:

Rissie Owens, Presiding Officer, Board of Pardons and Paroles: Rissie.owens@tdcj.state.tx.us

Victims Services Division, Texas Department of Criminal Justice: Victim.svc@tdcj.state.tx.us

Charles Shipman (voted in favor of parole), Parole Commissioner: Charles.shipman@tdcj.state.tx.us

Marsha Moberly (voted in favor of parole), Parole Commissioner: Marsha.Moberley@tdcj.state.tx.us

—  John Wright

Gov. Perry signs anti-bullying bill

Gov. Rick Perry

Gov. Rick Perry, under fire of late for hosting a Day of Prayer funded by an anti-gay hate group, on Friday quietly signed the anti-bullying bill that became Equality Texas’ top priority in this year’s legislative session.

HB 1942, by Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, doesn’t include specific protetions for LGBT youth but for the first time requires school districts to adopt anti-bullying policies and adds bullying by electronic means to the state’s definition. The bill also integrates bullying prevention into the state’s health curriculum and allows districts to transfer bullies to another classroom or campus (previously, only victims could be transferred).

Last month, the Human Rights Campaign issued a statement calling on Perry to sign HB 1942. Although there was never any indication that Perry planned to veto the bill, he could have allowed it to take effect without his signature.

Also Friday, Perry signed a suicide prevention bill backed by Equality Texas and authored by State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston. HB 1386 calls on the state health department to annually provide school districts with a list of suicide prevention programs. The bill allows districts to implement programs from the list and adopt policies on suicide prevention.

Coleman’s bill was originally called Asher’s Law, in honor of the gay 13-year-old from the Houston area who took his own life last year. However, Asher’s name, along with references to LGBT youth, were later removed from the measure.

Perry didn’t mention either bill in a statement released Friday about major legislation the governor signed and vetoed from the Legislature’s regular session.

—  John Wright

Legislative session ends well for LGBT community

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED | Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman said the LGBT lobbying organization stayed persistent and reached its major goal in this legislative session. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Although prospects were dim as session started, Equality Texas has achieved its top priority with passage of anti-bullying bill

JOHN WRIGHT | Online Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

When the 82nd Texas Legislature convened in January, things weren’t looking good for the LGBT community.

Republicans had seized a supermajority in the House in November elections, and Equality Texas, the statewide LGBT advocacy group, had eliminated half its staff — including its legislative lobbyist — due to budget constraints.

Five months later, when the legislative session ends this coming Monday, Equality Texas will have defied the odds and achieved its No. 1 priority — passage of meaningful anti-bullying legislation.

On top of that, the group has seen committee hearings on more than a dozen bills it supported, and appears to have staved off several anti-LGBT measures, including one targeting transgender marriage and another aimed at eliminating gay resource centers on college campuses.

“I would give this a very high mark as far as a legislative session for us,” said Dennis Coleman, who was named executive director of Equality Texas just months before the session began.

“I would give it an ‘A’ considering where we thought we were going. I don’t think that anybody thought that we would make any kind of progress based upon last year’s elections, and I would say I was a little skeptical as well.

“We stayed persistent,” Coleman added. “We found allies to work with all across the board. Equality Texas became the expert on a lot of the bills that were out there, especially around the bullying bills.”

For Equality Texas, the session was highlighted by final passage this week of HB 1942, the bipartisan anti-bullying bill by Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, that now awaits Gov. Rick Perry’s signature. Passage of Patrick’s bill, a compromise measure that includes portions of several other anti-bullying bills, comes on the heels of the gay youth suicide crisis of last fall.

“It’s unfortunate that it took the suicide of children for people to really pay attention to what we knew about almost 15 years ago,” Coleman said. “For many people they think it just popped up, but this has been going on for at least three sessions.”

To help win passage of Patrick’s bill, Equality Texas enlisted people like Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns, as well as the parents of bullying victims including Asher Brown, the gay 13-year-old from the Houston area who took his own life last year.

“It was a promise I made to Asher the day that he died before his little body left this house,” Amy Truong, Asher’s mother, said this week in an Equality Texas press release marking final passage of HB 1942. “I told him that I would never stop fighting until we did something to change this.”

Coleman downplayed criticism that Patrick’s bill doesn’t include enumerated protections for LGBT youth. “I think by making it as broad as you can, you include everyone without excluding anyone,” Coleman said. “To say that LGBT students are not covered is wrong.”

Coleman added that although he doesn’t believe the absence of LGBT protections weakens the bill, “I definitely think we would not have gotten the broad bipartisan support had we continued trying to fight for everything we thought should have been in there.”

As of Thursday, Equality Texas was patiently awaiting final passage of a second bill it supports, a youth suicide prevention measure from Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston.

But the group’s work won’t end with the session on Monday. Dennis Coleman said he believes a special session is likely, which could provide an opportunity for defeated anti-LGBT measures to re-emerge. He added that the group has a very short window for fundraising prior to the 2012 election cycle.

“I don’t know what kind of vacation I’m going to be taking anytime soon,” Coleman said as he traveled from Austin to Dallas for a fundraiser on Wednesday afternoon. “We’re tired, but we’re happy with the results.”

—  John Wright

Coleman’s suicide prevention bill headed to governor’s desk

Texas state Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Houston Democrat, announced Thursday night, shortly before 7 p.m., that the Texas House has accepted Senate amendments HB 1386, giving the bill final approval and sending it to Gov. Rick Perry’s desk for signing.

State Rep. Garnet Coleman

The legislation, authored by Coleman and fellow Democrats Reps. Jessica Farrar of Houston and Marissa Marquez of El Paso, is intended to help prevent youth suicide by allowing school districts to implement suicide prevention programs that help school officials recognize the early warning signs of suicide and to notify parents to intervene if necessary, according to a press release from Coleman’s office.

Coleman said, “I’m extremely proud of this bill. This is one of my most important legislative priorities. We’ve heard too many tragic stories of children and teenagers who have taken their own lives due to emotional distress. This loss of life can be prevented. It’s important that we let parents know of any early warning signs in their child’s behavior so that they can prevent a bad outcome. It is the parents who can best care for their children.”

Sen. Rodney Ellis, another Houston Democrat, has sponsored the bill in the Senate. He called the measure “a small step in the right direction to aid school districts in identifying and aiding those students who are at risk of suicide.”

—  admin

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.

—  admin

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.

—  admin

State reps pass redistricting map

Rep. Marc Veasey

Legislators believe congressional and legislative districts will be decided in the courts

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Although plans for new congressional and state house and senate districts are not complete, minority groups are already criticizing the plans.

Rep. Garnet Coleman of Houston sent a letter to the Justice Department this week about the plan passed by the Texas House of Representatives for the state House. That plan has not yet passed the state Senate.

“Republicans cracked and packed communities of color into districts in order to dilute their voting rights,” Coleman said in a statement. “Close to 90 percent of the population growth in Texas was non-Anglo, yet this map reduces the number of districts where communities of color can elect their candidate of choice.”

Chuck Smith at Equality Texas said that his organization has not been keeping a close eye on redistricting because they have to work with whoever gets elected. He said his organization’s assumption was that whatever this legislature passed, it would be challenged in court.

Every redistricting plan passed by the Texas Legislature since 1980 has been challenged in court. After the 2000 census, Speaker of the House Tom DeLay intervened; those maps were redrawn several times and not settled until the 2006 election.

Rep. Roberto Alonzo

The office of Rep. Roberto Alonzo agreed with Equality Texas. Alonzo serves on the House Redistricting Committee.

Alonzo’s legislative aide, Cole Howard, said, “It looks like both sides sat back and determined the courts can decide the districts,” Howard said.

He called the map retrogressive and said it does not account for growth of minority communities.

Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth who serves on the redistricting committee, said there were a number of different scenarios that could happen. He said that if the Senate does not pass the House map or if the governor vetoes the map, it would be drawn by the Legislative Redistricting Board.

That group is made up of five Republicans appointed by the governor.

“The strategy is to pack districts,” Veasey said.

But he said that the plans are not legal. Republicans are attacking Fort Worth’s urban core especially in Senate redistricting, he said.

“They’re going after Wendy Davis,” Veasey said.

He said that the plan for the Senate is to divide Davis’ district into as many as five pieces that would be assigned to suburban or rural districts.

“That would leave Fort Worth out in the cold,” he said. In a similar move in Dallas, he said state Sen. Royce West could be the only voice in Dallas.

He said he expects congressional seats to be left to the courts.

“No one has seen any plans yet,” he said.

Several maps have been drawn, but nothing discussed by the committee.

U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson already serves a packed district that includes most of the city’s heavily LGBT neighborhoods as well as most minority communities. Districts are supposed to be evenly divided in population but her district is one of the largest in the state. One of the four new congressional districts would have to be carved from her district.

In one plan, Johnson retains much of her district south of I-30. Oak Lawn would fall into a new district created to attempt to swing that new seat to a Republican candidate.

Veasey said that if House members do draw the map, they will attempt to carve a Republican seat from Johnson’s district, but he said he wasn’t sure how that would be possible or if it would even be legal.

Republican Rep. Pete Sessions’ current district was created to carve up former Democratic Rep. Martin Frost’s former district.

The tactic worked and Frost lost re-election after 13 terms in office.

In most plans, Sessions’ new district would become more safely Republican, taking the Oak Cliff portion of the area away from him.

“Our delegation should look more like Houston’s,” Veasey said.

Houston has more diverse representation in Congress. He said Dallas has the fastest growing Hispanic population in the country and the second-fastest growing African-American population.

In the plan passed by the House for the state House of Representatives, adjustments to the map would not seriously impact the chances of any incumbents in Dallas. State Rep. Rafael Anchia’s district would push further into Oak Lawn taking away some of Rep. Dan Branch’s district. Branch’s area would become more safely Republican.

Seats in North Dallas that recently swung from Democrat to Republican would also become more safely Republican by pushing out further into the suburbs.

In Fort Worth, Rep. Lon Burnham’s district would push into Veasey’s, whose district would be packed with even more minority residents. Veasey said both he and Burnham would be safe. Both have been strong LGBT community allies.

But Veasey said he didn’t think that part of the plan would be legal.

Under current Texas House rules, May 12 is the last day to pass bills, although the rules may change before this Thursday’s deadline.

The legislature adjourns on May 30. By that date, the Senate must pass its redistricting plan and reconcile their plan with the House.

However, according to the Texas Legislative Council, a nonpartisan organization that provides technical and legal support to the legislature for redistricting, a planned schedule doesn’t expect the Legislature to finish its work by the end of the session.

From May 31 through Aug. 27, the Legislative Redistricting Board will meet if the House and Senate fail to agree on a plan.

Once their work is done, the governor would call a special session of the Legislature to adopt the plan.

Since Jan. 2, 2012 is the last day for candidates to file for the November 2012 elections, all challenges must be settled by the end of December.

The Justice Department must also approve redistricting in Texas. This will be the first time since 1961 that Democrats controlled the Justice Department during redistricting.

—  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