TX legislative panel advances pro-LGBT bill for 1st time in 12 years

John Carona

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, voted in favor of the pro-LGBT bill.

Even in Texas, LGBT equality is inching forward.

For the first time in 12 years, a state legislative committee advanced a specifically pro-LGBT bill on Tuesday.

The Senate Committee on Criminal Justice voted 4-1 to advance SB 1316 — which would provide legal protections for sexually active gay and lesbian teens.

Sen. John Carona, a Republican from Dallas who made news by waffling on LGBT issues last year, joined three Democrats in voting to advance the bill. The Democrats who voted for the bill were author John Whitmire of Houston, Juan Hinojosa of McAllen and Jose Rodriguez of El Paso. Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, voted against the advancing the bill. The other two Republican members of the criminal justice committee were absent from the hearing.

The committee heard testimony from the parents of gay teens before voting to advance the bill, which is backed by Equality Texas. No one testified against the bill, although the anti-gay group Texas Values issued statements to media outlets saying it amounts to “promoting sexual behavior.”

Under Texas law, sexual contact with minors under the age of 17 is a crime of indecency. But a “Romeo and Juliet” defense protects teen couples from prosecution as long as they are in a consensual relationship, both over 14 and within three years of age of each other. However,  the law specifically states that this protection is available only to couples of the opposite sex. SB 1316 would give same-sex teen couples the same protection as their heterosexual peers.

A House version of the bill, HB 2403, was also heard by a committee today but did not receive a vote. Despite clearing the Senate committee, the measure still faces long odds. It would need a two-thirds majority vote from the full Senate before it can be considered on the floor.

The last pro-LGBT bill to clear a Texas legislative committee was the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which includes protections based on “sexual preference” and was signed into law by Republican Gov. Rick Perry in 2001.

Four anti-bullying bills passed the Legislature and were signed by Perry in 2011, but none contained specific protections for LGBT youth.

 

—  John Wright

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

LEGE UPDATE: Best. Legislative. Week. Ever.

Daniel Williams

The passage of not one but two anti-bullying bills, the final death of an anti-trans marriage bill and the failure of amendments designed to defund and ban campus LGBT resource centers made this, the final full week of the Texas Legislature’s 20-week regular session, perhaps the best legislative week for LGBT Texans ever.

Friday, May 20th dawned amid fears that Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, would attempt to amend Senate Bill 1811 to include provisions designed to defund and ban LGBT resource centers from Texas universities. SB 1811 is one of several “fiscal matters” bills that compliment the budget, further clarifying details of how appropriated funds should be used. Christian pre-filed two amendments the previous Thursday. The first was identical to an amendment he attached to the state budget that was later removed in the Senate. The amendment required schools that appropriated state funds for LGBT resource centers to spend an equal amount on “family and traditional values centers.” The second would prohibit any state funds from being spent on LGBT resource centers and would prevent them from being housed in campus buildings.

For seven hours the House considered amendment after amendment to SB 1811. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, who carried the legislation in the House and chairs the powerful Appropriations Committee had promised both the Republican and Democratic caucuses that he would oppose all but 11 “perfecting” amendments to the bill. For the most part the House respected his opposition and the House rejected the vast majority of amendments. Late in the debate word came over that another of the fiscal matters bills, Senate Bill 1581, had passed the Senate. SB 1581 deals specifically with fiscal matters affecting secondary and higher education. Because of the late hour, and because most of the amendments to SB 1811 weren’t passing anyway, Simpson and several of his colleagues withdrew amendments dealing with education with the assumption that they could be amended to SB 1581 the next Monday, when it would be debated in the House.

Just after midnight on Saturday morning, SB 1811 passed the House, without the Christian amendments.

—  admin

LEGE UPDATE: Senate flirts with trans marriage ban; LGBT youth removed from suicide bill

Daniel Williams

An attack on opposite-sex marriage, movement on anti-bullying bills and the removal of protections for LGBT teens from a suicide prevention bill marked this, the 15th week of the Texas Legislature’s 20-week regular session.

On Friday morning , April 15, urgent alerts went out from state and national transgender advocacy groups asking Texans to call Democratic members of the Senate and urge them to oppose Senate Bill 723. The bill would remove a court-ordered “change of sex” from the list of identifying documents which Texans can use to obtain a marriage license, potentially voiding all opposite-sex marriages in Texas where one partner has changed their legally recognized sex.

The alert was caused by the placement of SB 723 on the Senate’s “intent calendar” for Monday, April 18.

Senate rules require bills to be considered in the order they are filed, but the Senate hardly ever follows that rule. Instead they file a bill at the front of the line (the “blocker bill”) and everyone agrees not to vote on it. In order for the Senate to consider a bill filed after the blocker bill they must vote to “set aside” the Senate rules and take the bill “out of order.” Senate Rule 22.02 says that setting aside the rules requires a two-thirds majority of the members present. The intent calendar is a list of bills that Senators intend to bring up out of order that day. The Senate creates an intent calendar each week, and any bill not taken up on Monday rolls over to Tuesday and then to Wednesday. They then start a new intent calendar the following week.

There are 31 Senators: 12 Democrats and 19 Republicans. In order for a bill to receive the required two-thirds (or 20) votes it needs, at least one of the Democrats must support it. Thus the urgency of the alert.

—  admin

Texas Senate didn’t take up transgender marriage ban today — but may take it up on Tuesday

The Texas Senate adjourned today without taking up SB 723, the bill by Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, that could prevent transgender people from marrying people of the opposite sex in Texas.

SB 723, apparently prompted by the Nikki Araguz case, would remove a “court order of sex change” from the list of identifying documents that can be used to obtain marriage licenses in Texas. And while transgender people could still theoretically use their driver’s licenses to obtain marriage licenses, advocates say the “legislative intent” of Williams’ bill would allow courts to declare those marriages invalid. Moreover, they say the bill could effectively lead to the state refusing to recognize the existence of transgender people for any purpose.

“If SB 723 gets a favorable vote it will enshrine Littleton vs Prange (1999) logic — you are what the doctor put on your birth certificate — into Texas State law,” writes Meghan Stabler, a transgender woman from Round Rock who serves on the Board of Directors for the Human Rights Campaign. “This will lay the foundation for the State of Texas to cease to recognize the transitioned status of transgender people.”

The bill was on the Senate’s intent calendar for today, meaning it could have come up for a vote if two-thirds of the Senate agreed to consider it. While the Senate didn’t get to the bill today, it remains on the intent calendar, and advocates are continuing to ask people to call Democratic senators and ask them to vote against SB 723. Republicans are one vote short of a two-thirds majority in the Senate, meaning if no Democrats vote to take up the bill it will die.

Contact info for Democratic senators is after the jump.

—  John Wright