As the House completed its 21st day in session (we have only 9 session days left) it has become apparent that the Senate will keep the Legislature from having a meaningful legislative session. The Senate is still deadlocked in a power struggle with no compromise in sight. If the Senate fails to pass the two state budgets, we could be heading for a Special Session during the summer months.
Personally, I have learned more about moving issues and policies through the political process as a legislator in these few short months than I have in my 25 years of experience as a community activist. As I continue to learn, I look forward to joining with other progressive activists in making change down the road.
Some days are very frustrating…case in point: this past Thursday when the House failed to pass the Budget Isolation Resolution or BIR considering the addition of “sexual orientation” to the State’s existing Hate Crimes Law. (Until the budgets are passed by both chambers, we are required to pass a “BIR” by 3/5ths majority vote in order to consider any other legislation.)
Rep. Alvin Holmes has introduced this legislation for the past two years, both times failing to pass the BIR to consider the legislation. I was the first Representative recognized to speak on the Hate Crimes bill this year and tried to make a plea to my fellow Representatives about the fear that all gay people face as we come out and live our lives as openly gay citizens. I knew that the legislation would probably fail, but hoped that my presence in the House would raise awareness. In the end, we lost the BIR vote 43 to 45.
In the face of this defeat, however, I am not discouraged. While the Republicans stood firm in their opposition (citing that “murder is murder” and that laws should not question the motivation of the intent of a crime) none of them spoke against the bill. At the same time, most of the Democrats voted with us. Rep. Demetrius Newton followed my comments with his own words stating that “hate crimes that go unpunished will encourage other hate crimes”.
It is clear that we still have work to do and that as more of us live our lives “out” and educate our elected officials about our lives, we will gain more supporters.
Even some of my Republican peers came to me after the vote and said they were moved by my words and were sorry they could not vote with me, but they were convinced by their party that a vote with us would hurt them in their next election. I was told by one that one of the Republican floor leaders came to him and said “a vote for the BIR will kill you in your re-election”. Sad that some still care more about their re-election than they do about fairness and justice. Sadder, still, that some have little idea that this bill would positively impact many whom they represent.
Overall, the House has been busy passing some good legislation – but chances of the Senate acting on them is slim at this point. The Constitution and Elections Committee (on which I serve) has considered and passed important ethics legislation and campaign finance restrictions. I enjoy this Committee and commend our chair, Rep. Randy Hinshaw, for his fairness. While we might have heated debates on issues, he always allows both sides to voice concerns. While this Committee voted to approve the Constitutional Convention bill, it didn’t appear that we had enough votes in the House for consideration (Rep. Newton moved to carry over the bill on the House floor when he realized that we did not have the votes to pass the BIR). Even if it passes the House later in this year’s Session, it is almost certain that the Senate would not consider the bill.
In closing, I want to invite all of you to my first TOWN HALL meeting, Monday, May 14th at 7:00 p.m. at Woodlawn High School.