JAMES RUSSELL | Staff Writer
When the 84th session of the Texas Legislature convenes on Jan. 13, the state’s largest LGBT advocacy group will be ready for any fights.
“We’re switching from offense to defense,” said Daniel Williams, legislative specialist for Equality Texas.
As a result of the November elections, both chambers of the Legislature will be decidedly different, but especially so in the Senate. It is the different make up of the Texas Senate that is prompting Equality Texas’ strategic change, Williams said.
In the Senate
With archconservative Republican Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick at its helm and an equally conservative crop of Republican freshmen riding into office with help from the Tea Party, the Senate will be “more raucous and unpredictable” than in past years, Williams said.
Patrick beat Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the Republican primary run-off and defeated Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, in the general election. Van de Putte recently resigned to run for mayor of San Antonio.
Patrick actively courted the GOP’s socially conservative base by campaigning on hot button issues, like same-sex marriage. But the real question is whether Patrick will replace the “two-thirds rule,” which requires that the Senate pass any legislation with two-thirds majority — or super-majority — vote. Getting the two-thirds majority requires cooperation from Democrats.
Patrick promised in his primary campaign to scrap the rule but has since shied from the subject.
After Sen.-elect Konni Burton of Colleyville flipped Tarrant County’s District 10 seat to the GOP, the GOP now has 20 Republicans to the Democrats’ 11.
Should Patrick replace the rule Williams said change could actually be good for LGBT issues. He said that while the 60 percent rule would make it easier for the political right to bring issues that don’t enjoy wide support to the floor of the Senate, it would allow legislators on the left to do the same.
“As a person who spends the majority of my professional life advocating for issues that don’t enjoy universal political acclaim, that’s an exciting prospect,” Williams said. “Likewise, as a person who spends the rest of my professional life fighting issues that don’t enjoy universal political acclaim, I dread it.”
In the House
The House, under the leadership of Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, should be friendlier than in the past, Williams said. While Republicans gained two seats in November, not all of them wear tin foil hats.
Williams described Straus as a near antithesis to Patrick: a consensus-builder with respect for the legislative process and desire to bring the body to consensus. But the speaker won’t be without dissent in the 150-member House. For the first time since the 1970s, representatives will take a recorded vote for Speaker.
In his three terms as speaker, Straus has faced challenges from members who think he is too moderate but all have dropped out before the vote. But this year he faces a challenge from Tea Party-backed Rep. Scott Turner, R-Frisco. While Straus is expected to easily win re-election, he is currently just shy of the 76 votes needed to guarantee re-election.
Should Turner pull off an upset of Straus, the House may become a lot less friendly than Williams expects it to be.
Among the hundreds of bills pre-filed by legislators are eight pro-LGBT bills covering topics ranging from supplemental birth certificates to repealing the state’s same-sex marriage ban.
Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, joined Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, in introducing legislation to provide a statutory repeal of Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage.
Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, and Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, introduced legislation to repeal the constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage.
Anchia and Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, filed companion bills that would allow adopted children in Texas to have the names of both parents listed on their supplemental birth certificates, regardless of the parents’ gender.
Garcia is the first senator to file such a bill in the Senate.
Reps. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, and Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, also pre-filed three separate bills related to insurance non-discrimination legislation.
Of course, not every pre-filed bill is pro-LGBT, and not every bill has been pre-filed.
Two similar bills filed by Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, and Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, would allow businesses to refuse service to LGBT customers or fire LGBT employees based on religious beliefs. Campbell has filed similar legislation before.
Williams anticipates other anti-LGBT bills to be filed after the session begins, including two by North Texas legislators. Earlier in the year on Facebook Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, announced he had written a bill that would ban the Texas Department of Criminal Justice from funding sex change operations for inmates. Williams expects Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, will also re-file a bill allowing school clubs to deny membership to anyone based on religious beliefs.
Locally, Dallas city lobbyists may be more flexible than in previous years on LGBT issues. The Dallas City Council approved a resolution proposed by Councilwoman Vonciel Jones Hill to allow the city council’s task forces to make recommendations to the lobbyists. For the LGBT Task Force, that means having the city’s backing to encourage area lawmakers to vote against bills that discriminate.
In previous sessions, the city council had to vote on agenda items before the lobbyists could address those bills with state representatives and senators. In the last session, delays caused items to be pushed back on the council agenda until after the session was over causing ill-will between LGBT community activists and the mayor and even some allies on the council.
Other task forces include the Education Task Force, the Poverty Task Force, the Domestic Violence Task Force and the Fair Park Task Force.
Once the LGBT Task Force is presented with a list of bills that affect the LGBT community, Councilman Adam Medrano, who chairs the group, can pass along the recommendations.
Regardless of what legislation is — or is not — introduced, Equality Texas has to remain ever-vigilant. Williams said he anticipates floor amendments or little-used legislative rules that delay or even kill legislation.
“There are always curve balls,” he said.
• HB 537 by Rep. Rafael Anchia and SB 250 by Sen. Sylvia Garcia would remove language added to the Health and Safety code in 1997, equalizing access to accurate supplementary birth certificates for all Texas children.
• HB 130 by Rep. Anchia, HJR 34 by Rep. Garnet Coleman, SB 98 by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa and SJR 13 by Sen. José Rodríguez work together to put a constitutional amendment on the November 2015 ballot to extend the freedom to marry to Texas.
• HB 453 by Reps. Roberto Alonzo, HB 304 by Rep. Senfronia Thompson and SB 76 by Sen. Rodney Ellis would prohibit insurance discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
• SB 88 by Sen. Ellis would amend prohibit bias based on sexual orientation in health education curricula.
• HJR 55 by Rep. Jason Villalba and SJR 10 by Sen. Donna Campbell would allow Texas’ businesses to refuse service or deny employment to LGBT people based on individual’s or religious organization’s beliefs.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 2, 2015.