Last year, Stonewall Democrats of Dallas launched a full-fledged assault against Republican State Rep. Dan Branch, who’s consistently voted against the LGBT community despite the fact that his district includes roughly half of Oak Lawn. The situation led to a heated dispute between Stonewall and Log Cabin Republicans, which invited Branch to speak at one of their meetings. Now, Branch has been named chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, meaning he very well could decide whether a proposal advances that would grant domestic partner benefits to state university employees. Log Cabin President Rob Schlein has said all along that the group’s outreach to Branch would pave the way for future dialogue with him on legislative issues. And it appears we may soon find out whether that’s the case.

Other than Branch, Equality Texas is pleased with committee assignments announced today by new Speaker Joe Straus. Equality Texas says several strong LGBT allies have been named chair and vice chair of committees that could hear pro-equality legislation. Read the group’s full press release after the jump.

To register for Equality Texas’ Lobby Day on March 2, go here.

House Committee Appointments Announced!

Some Positive Signs.

Austin, Texas (February 12, 2009) - The new Speaker of the Texas House, Rep. Joe Straus of San Antonio, has just announced standing committee appointments for the 81st Legislative Session. Straus, who is generally considered to be a moderate Republican, ascended to the Speakership with the support of the majority of Democratic house members. Naming the committee appointments was widely believed to be the first real test of Straus’ leadership and his bipartisanship.
Equality Texas is encouraged by the Speaker’s appointments.
Straus has named several ardent pro-equality advocates as chair or vice-chair of legislative committees likely to review equality legislation.  These include: Rep. Senfronia Thompson as Chair of Local & Consent Calendars, Rep. Pete Gallego as Chair of Criminal Jurisprudence, Rep. Elliott Naishtat as Vice-Chair of Public Health, Rep. Patrick Rose as Chair of Human Services,  Rep. Mark Strama as Chair of Technology, Economic Development & Workforce; and Rep. Scott Hochberg as Vice-Chair of Public Education.
Other pro-equality advocates were appointed chair or vice-chair of committees that are unlikely to see bills in our legislative agenda.  These include: Rep. Garnet Coleman as Chair of County Affairs, Rep. Donna Howard as Vice-Chair of Culture, Recreation & Tourism; Rep. Allen Vaught as Vice-Chair of Defense & Veterans Affairs, Rep. Jessica Farrar as Vice-Chair of Land & Resource Management, Rep. Rafael Anchia as Vice-Chair of Pension, Investments & Financial Services; Rep. Mike Villarreal as Vice-Chair of Redistricting, and Rep. Yvonne Davis as Chair of Urban Affairs.
While many of our well-qualified legislative supporters are absent from the places we’d like to see them, it was unreasonable to expect that the Speaker would rule based only on a pro-equality agenda. However, in most of those committees which will likely review equality-related legislation, we are confident that Equality Texas can work with those committee chairs to receive fair, reasonable, and timely hearings on our legislative agenda.
We have renewed hope for the chances of several bills in our legislative agenda (some filed, some yet to be filed). In a few cases, we have more concern about the prospects of a bill’s success. However, it can easily be stated that committee appointments are no worse than the last several sessions, and likely a great deal better. Speaker Straus has stated that he has no taste for the wedge issue politics that have marked the last several legislative sessions. His list of committee chairs mostly reflects this.
Some of the committees have supportive membership, but historically non-supportive chairs – as in the case of Higher Education Chair Rep. Dan Branch.  Branch’s Dallas district is one of several house districts which defeated the 2005 marriage amendment, however Branch’s voting record has been out-of-step with his district on legislation related to equality issues.  It is conceivable that one of our legislative agenda bills, HB 861 providing for competitive insurance benefits for employees of the University of Texas and Texas A&M University Systems, could come before Branch’s committee.  If it does, it will be necessary to educate Rep. Branch and change his mind about the importance of equality to his constituents.
This is just one example of the importance of constituents coming to Equality Texas Lobby Day.  Rep. Branch needs to see that his constituents support equality for all Texans.  Every State Representative needs to see constituent support for equality.  Lobby Day is on March 2, 2009.

Please register and come to Lobby Day on March 2nd!

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