Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

What's going to happen this session with four bills of concern to the GLBT community?

The flashy titles of Jeff Woods' blog posts notwithstanding, the 5th Advancing Equality Day on the Hill actually did advance equality a few steps. Difficulties in maintaining appointments with four legislators while 47 meetings took place is not a bad record. I've read through the written reports that were provided by the participants and here's a little bit of what we learned.

SB 0078/HB 0605 (the adoption ban)--At the beginning of the day, many legislators had not heard of the bill. What they consistently said, regardless of party and regardless of whether they supported or opposed the bill, was that anything with a fiscal note like the one the bill carried last year, would either be dead on arrival or have a tough climb. One senator, however, said that if the Senate Republicans wanted to run it, it would pass on a floor vote. That would obviously increase the pressure in the House. Considering the bill managed to hang on until May of last year, even in the face of revenue shortfalls, I think that it's too soon to be optimistic. So TEP will continue to be active in working against the bill.

SB 1250/HB 0821 (Don't Say Gay)--The broad opinion among legislators we talked to was that the fact that Rep. Campfield's name is attached to the bill should be enough to insure its demise. However, the bill will probably get a spirited hearing in the House K-12 subcommittee. Last year when Rep. Les Winningham was chair of the full Education committee, he opposed it. This year, he chairs the K-12 subcommittee where it should be heard first. While many legislators get concerned at the thought of "teaching homosexuality," whatever that means, the bill is written so broadly that many of them can be persuaded that the bill is a bad idea. TEP will continue to work against the bill in a support role. Our assumption is that TEA will be the lead because it deals with a curriculum matter.

SB 0252/HB 0334 (birth certificate change)--Tennessee is the only state that prohibits by statute gender changes on birth certificates. From conversations with Republican lawmakers, the responses varied. Some were sympathetic after meeting with transgender constituents; I wouldn't say that will be enough to change their votes in many cases. Republicans indicated possible objections on the grounds of insurance issues. One Republican frankly admitted that he was tired of dealing with the bill every year and wanted to see some kind of compromise that would include putting MtF (male to female) of FtM (female to male) on birth certificates to indicate a gender change. The transgender community would not view this option as a true compromise because they now identify and live as a gender different from their birth gender. And since birth certificates are now widely used as a form of identification and not merely as a record of what took place, it causes problems for them when dealing with employers, etc. In a heavily Republican Senate and an almost evenly divided House, the bill continues to face an uphill climb. TEP will continue to support the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition in advocating for the bill.

SB 0253/HB 0335 (hate crimes sentencing enhancement for gender identity)--Tennessee hate crimes sentencing enhancement currently includes sexual orientation, but not gender identity or expression. Given the rash of violence against the transgender community last year in Memphis, the need for the bill is clear to the GLBT community. This bill unfortunately will probably not move very far this session for a number of reasons. First, the scope of the problem is largely unknown to legislators across the state. Many had not heard of the bill or the problem when our Day on the Hill participants spoke with them on Tuesday. The bill will also carry a fiscal note and that will hamper its chances of advancing. TEP will continue to support TTPC in providing education about the problem.

There are several other bills that we are monitoring this session, but those are the big four. Check here for regular updates.

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