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.