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

TX Lege: Pro-LGBT bills see ‘flurry of activity’

Chuck-Smith
Chuck Smith

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.”

—  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