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

Unconfirmed reports indicate Sen. Royce West plans to vote in favor of trans marriage ban

Sen. Royce West

UPDATE: Kelvin Bass, a spokesman for Sen. West, returned my call regarding SB 723. According to Bass: “The Senator was not aware of this bill until reading the Dallas Voice article and had not yet formed an opinion but he will not be supporting the bill.” Although West’s office says he plans to vote against the bill, advocates are still urging people to contact other Democrats in the Senate and ask them to vote against the bill. Again, if no Democrats support the bill, it will die. Contact info for Senate Democrats can be found here.

ORIGINAL POST: Cristan Williams, the executive director of the Houston Transgender Center, posted a report on Twitter that Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, is planning to vote in favor of Senate Bill 723. As Instant Tea previously reported, SB 723 would remove a court-ordered change of sex from the list of documents that can be used to prove identity when obtaining a marriage license. The bill has the potential to void all opposite-sex marriage in Texas where one partner is transgender.

Williams’ information was based on a report from a Houston-area transgender advocate who called West’s office to encourage him to oppose SB 723 and was told by a staffer that the senator had received a number of calls in support of the bill and would be voting for it. West’s office has not responded to requests that he confirm or deny the report.

SB 723 was originally on the list of bills to be considered on Monday, but the Senate adjourned both Monday and today without voting on it. The bill is now expected to be considered on Wednesday.

West, whose district includes much of the Oak Lawn neighborhood, can be reached at 512-463-0123 or by e-mail at Royce.West@senate.state.tx.us.

—  admin

ACTION ALERT: Tell Senate Democrats to vote against bill to ban transgender marriage

dead firefighter's transgender wife
Nikki Araguz

As we noted below, the Texas Senate is slated to consider a bill Monday would effectively bar transgender people from marrying people of the opposite sex. The bill is a direct response to the case of transgender widow Nikki Araguz.

In order to take up the bill, the Senate must have 20 votes. Republicans are one vote short of a 20-vote majority, meaning they will need at least one Democratic vote.

The Transgender Education Network of Texas issued an action alert this morning for people to contact Senate Democrats and urge them to vote against Senate Bill 723 by Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands. Here is contact information for Senate Democrats:

Mario Gallegos (512) 463-0106
Wendy Davis (512) 463-0110
Rodney G. Ellis (512) 463-0113
Kirk Watson (512) 463-0114
John Whitmire (512) 463-0115
Carlos I. Uresti (512) 463-0119
Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (512) 463-0120
Judith Zaffirini (512) 463-0121
Royce West (512) 463-0123
Leticia R. Van de Putte (512) 463-0126
Eduardo A. (Eddie) Lucio, Jr. (512) 463-0127
José R. Rodríguez (512) 463-0129

—  John Wright

Election 2010 • Republican gains could cause Dems redistricting woes

Dallas County stays blue despite a wave of Republican red sweeping across the rest of the state, nation

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson
ANOTHER TERM | U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson makes an appearance at the county Democratic Election Night party. Johnson, the only Dallas-area Democrat in Congress, easily defeated Tea Party favorite Steve Broden on Tuesday. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Although statewide results favored Republicans, Democrats swept all countywide races in Dallas County. The larger majority of Republicans in the legislature, however, will affect redistricting and could embolden some to file anti-gay legislation.

“Dallas County will still be a Democratic County,” said State Rep. Royce West at the election watch party at the American Airlines Arena on Nov. 2.

While pleased with the results throughout the county, Dallas County Democratic Party chair Darlene Ewing said her worry was redistricting.

New census figures will be reported in December. Then the newly elected legislature will redistrict state and federal legislative seats based on the new figures. She expects the state Democratic Party to file a challenge to the new boundaries should they be drawn to heavily favor Republicans.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, Texas should gain a seat. Eddie Bernice Johnson’s district is packed with a large number of the county’s Democrats, contributing to her 50-point margin of victory. Should the new district be carved partially from that area, the next congress might include a second Democrat from North Texas.

Should her district remain untouched, the area will likely elect another Republican.

Texas state House and Senate districts will also be reapportioned. Current district lines kept six districts safely in Democratic hands. Those races were unchallenged by the Republicans but made the rest of the area’s races remained uncompetitive for Democrats.

Ewing said that in 2000, the Justice Department appointees who reviewed redistricting plans were Republican. But no longer.

“This time they’re on our side,” Ewing said.

“We have more recourse with a Democrat in the White House,” said Stonewall Democrats of Dallas President Erin Moore.

Moore believes the Justice Department will look at the new map more critically than they had in the past. Redistricting should reflect neighborhoods, and that gerrymandering is done to get one party or the other elected, she said.

“With Republicans winning, we know they’ll draw some really squiggly lines to get what they need to win again,” said Moore.

Moore also worried about anti-LGBT bills that would become more likely to pass with a larger Republican majority. She said anti-adoption bills could be filed and anti-bullying laws would be less likely to pass.

“Numbers bring strength and confidence,” she said. “And they’ve been emboldened.

Within the Democratic Party, the number of delegates each state sends to the national convention is determined, in part, by the number of votes cast for the Democrat in the most recent gubernatorial race. She said more ballots were cast for Bill White this year than for Chris Bell in 2006.

In this election, White and other Democrats did much better in Dallas than across most of the rest of the state.

Of the straight party ballots cast, 53 percent went to the Democratic Party. By contrast, almost twice as many Republican straight party ballots were cast in Tarrant County than Democratic ballots.

In statewide races, White received 55 percent of the vote in the governor’s race in Dallas County. Across the state, Rick Perry won the election with 55 percent. The vote in Tarrant County reflected the statewide vote.

Dr. Elba Garcia and a supporter.
Dr. Elba Garcia and a supporter.

Other statewide races were all won by Republicans but were fairly evenly split in Dallas County. Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst held a 2,000-vote edge over Democrat Linda Chavez-Thompson in Dallas. In other races, the Democratic challengers held a slight edge over the Republican incumbents across the county.

All contested Dallas County judgeships were won by Democrats. Winners took nothing for granted in their races, however.

“Somebody once told me there are two ways to run for office,” said Judge Carl Ginsberg. “Unopposed or scared.”

He said he got his message out and won with more than 52 percent of the vote, higher than most of the other winners. A number of Republican voters told him that they crossed over to vote for him.

Democrats also retained district attorney, county clerk, district clerk, and county judge and picked up a county commissioner’s seat.

However, in state House of Representatives races, Democrats lost all contested races in Dallas County. Two out of three Democratic incumbents also lost in Tarrant County. None of those races is a countywide contest.

Those losing their elections in Dallas included Carol Kent, Robert Miklos, Kirk England and Allen Vaught. In Tarrant County, Paula Pierson and Chris Turner lost their seats while LGBT community ally Lon Burnham retained his. Burnham has co-authored anti-bullying legislation.

“I think it was the national sentiment that hurt,” said Pete Schulte who challenged Republican incumbent Dan Branch for the House seat that includes parts of Oak Lawn and East Dallas.

“We lost a lot of good reps tonight,” Schulte said. “We fought a good campaign, but when federal politics takes center stage, it’s an uphill battle to combat that locally.”

Moore credits the Democratic win in Dallas County on the coordinated campaign of the county party, the get out the vote effort and a massive calling operation. But she called the results, “too close for comfort.”

Weather affected the outcome, Moore said. Traditionally, Republicans make up a majority of the early vote and Democrats are more likely to cast their ballots on Election Day. Rain affects turnout and more than three inches fell on Tuesday.

Elba Garcia was more upbeat in her assessment of the outcome. She beat 16-year incumbent Ken Mayfield by 5 percent.

She said voters spoke loudly about the change they want.

“We need this county to move forward,” she said. “Voters are tired of the finger pointing.”

Garcia said her experience in city government will benefit the county as she helps find ways for different entities together. Once elected, it doesn’t matter what party she ran on, she said, reflecting her experience as a city council member. The city council is elected in non-partisan elections.

Everyone on the Commissioners Court needs to work together on healthcare, public safety, education and economic development, Garcia said.
“Government is not exactly a business,” she said. “But it needs to be run professionally.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 5, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens