We've already talked plenty these past few weeks about the many alarming bills filed by the members of the 84th Texas Legislature. So far this biennial legislative session has been a good show for those who savor watching one of the most conservative legislative bodies in the country try and shove a well known conservative state even further toward the right. It's an entertaining political circus to watch, right up until you realize that there's a good chance some of that stuff might actually become actual law. And that's when it is time to start looking on the bright side and sussing out the more positive pieces of legislation that are being run through the glorified political sausage machine known as the Lege.
Legislators had from November 10 to March 13 to file their bills for the general session. The filing deadline was last Friday. We've sifted through some of the bills filed and found some bills that are downright encouraging. Despite the fact that there's a ton of legislation focused on making sure all the guns can be openly carried everywhere and an alarming number of anti-LGBT laws of all sorts, there are actual good ideas being worked on. Here are five of our favorites:
5. The one that will protect LGBT youth from conversion therapy. HB 3495, filed by state Rep. Celia Israel, an Austin Democrat, has introduced a bill that will protect young people and their families from conversion therapy, a tactic that -- although it has become a part of the GOP platform -- has been condemned by the pretty much everyone, including the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Israel's bill will make it so that any mental health provider who "engages in unprofessional conduct" by trying to change a child or minor's gender identity or sexual or romantic feelings toward the same sex will be in trouble with the state. Specifically, they'll be subject to disciplinary action "by any state regulatory entity with the power to take disciplinary action against the mental health provider." Pretty nifty, right?
4.The one that will expand health care coverage to low-income Texans. HB 3845, filed by state Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Democrat from Houston, would close a gap so that about 1 million Texans currently not receiving health care coverage would finally be covered.
Texas rejected the expansion of Medicaid that many states embraced with the start of the Affordable Care Act. While it must have been a nice stance for then-Gov. Rick Perry to hold for the GOP party faithful, it left a whole bunch of people in a gap where they remained uninsured despite the ACA. Well, Coleman's bill proposes to mend that hole.
The bill refers to a "Texas Way" to reform and address issues related to the Medicaid program, including the creation of an alternative program designed to ensure health benefit plan coverage to certain low-income individuals through the private marketplace, authorizing a fee. Coleman's bill would set up a plan to offer block grant funding from the federal government so that Texas could finally expand coverage to those in need of it while still maintaining control of how exactly that is done (because of course Texas wants to be running the show.) All of this time Texas hasn't even come up with a possible plan to present to the federal government about expanding Medicaid. At least Coleman's bill is a plan. . 3. The one that will let gay couples put both their names on the birth certificates for adopted children. HB 537, introduced by state Rep. Rafael Anchia, a Dallas Democrat, will change how the state handles birth certificates for adopted children. Back in 1997 the Lege added a provision to the Health & Safety Code requiring any supplemental birth certificate to have the name of a mother and a father on it, with a limit of just one slot for a parent of each gender. Since then any same-sex child that adopts a child is stuck with a really stupid dilemma of having to decide whose name goes on the birth certificate. Aside from the most basic thing ever -- wanting to have both parents listed on the certificate -- the rule can create problems for gay adoptive parents since the birth certificate that has to be used at schools and hospitals and all the other official places you have to take your kid simply won't list one of the parents. The bill will change the code so that "the supplementary birth certificate of an adopted child must be in the names of both [the] adoptive parents." And it'll be as simple as that if the bill gets passed this session.
Anchia has been working on getting this provision in the code corrected for years now. This is the fourth consecutive time Anchia has filed the bill. But this time around the bill has a companion bill, SB 250, introduced by state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, a Houston Democrat. The bill has never made it out of committee, but this time it has already been read and Anchia told the Texas Observer that he plans on forcing a floor vote if the bill doesn't gain some real traction this session. Coming from a Lege that has currently filed a huge number of anti-LGBT bills this session, seeing this bill have any life in it at all is encouraging.
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2. The one that will make medical marijuana legally accessible to those who need it. HB 3785, filed by state Rep. Marisa Márquez, an El Paso Democrat, and its companion SB 1839, filed by state Sen. Jose Menendez, a Democrat from San Antonio (he took Leticia Van de Putte's seat) will make medical marijuana obtainable for sick people that need it. No, this is nowhere near the legalized world of Colorado, but if passed the bill will to authorize the possession, use, cultivation, distribution, transportation, and delivery of cannabis for medical purposes. The bills will also authorize fees (and with oil prices that have helped fatten Texas coffers for the past many years currently in the toilet, we can see how the idea of any sort of a fee could appeal to even the most conservative members of the Lege.) Besides, even those who are devotedly against the idea of people running around purchasing legal pot brownies can't entirely object to medical research that could help people suffering from illness, including cancer and seizures.
1. The one that will finally take us into the world of The Jetsons. SB 1167, filed by state Sen. Rodney Ellis, a Houston Democrat, wants to get us started onto the road of the future. And what pray tell will the road to the future be like? Well, it'll be a whole lot like the Jetsons, or at least that's what we're hoping based on this bill.
Ellis wants to start a pilot program aimed at both monitoring and encouraging autonomous vehicle testing in the state. The whole thing would be monitored by the Department of Public Safety through some very basic safety requirements. Basically, companies testing these self-driving cars would have to let DPS know before taking them out for a spin on any public roads. The vehicles would also be required to each have a "driver" who has been given an autonomous vehicle license by DPS, (We're really hoping the "driving" test for this is to just sit there and read a book, because that would be glorious.)
In short, this bill would set up some rules and regulations for the road and get us one step closer to taking road trips where everybody gets to sit in the backseat and read and nobody has to drive. And once they make those things start flying we'll all finally be living like the Jetsons.