Monday, November 8, 2010

Debbie Riddle - Trans Advocate?

Today was the first day for filing legislation in the Texas legislature - 64 days until the start of the 82nd session.

Rumor is arch-conservative Rep. Debbie Riddle of Harris County camped out in front of the filing office so she could be first in line. Her camp-out was successful and her block of 6 anti-immigrant bills will be some of the first out of the gate when the legislature convenes.

HB 16, the first of these*, is a voter ID bill - one of the favorite rallying calls for the anti-immigrant crowd. Under current law voters can present either their voter registration card or state issued ID at the poll to prove their identity. Many anti-immigrant activist (including Riddle) are convinced that undocumented immigrants are forging voter registration cards to vote illegally (despite a study by the republican state Attorney General Greg Abbot that could not find a single instance of voter fraud at in-person voting locations). The anti-immigrant activists want to require a state-issued voter ID be presented in order to vote.

The populations least likely to have a state issued photo ID are low-income and predominately African-American or Hispanic: groups that are more likely to vote for Democratic candidates. So it's no surprise that Republicans love this idea. Attempts to get similar legislation to pass last year caused the legislative session to grind to a halt.

Hidden in HB 16 is an uncharacteristically decent bit of legislation from Rep. Riddle - who is perhaps best known for her fear of terrorist babies and calling children's health care programs a plot from the "depths of hell".

HB 16 would create a two tier system for voter identification. Voters would either have to present a photo ID, or preset two forms of non-photo ID. With-in the delineated list of acceptable forms of non-photo ID is this:
"court records of the person's adoption, name change, or sex change;" (emphasis added)
Currently Texas law only recognizes a court issued sex change in one other area, in the family code where a court record of sex change is listed as an identifying document for applying for a marriage license. In fact the list of identifying documents in HB 16 is almost identical to the list currently in the family code. I suspect that the drafter of this bill simply copied the list over, probably without realizing its significance.

The ability of Texas courts to issue a legal sex change is at the core of the Nikki Araguz case currently being fought in Warton County (Mrs. Araguz's firefighter husband was killed in the line of duty - his ex-wife is suing Mrs. Araguz for the widow's benifits claiming their marriage was invalid because Mrs. Araguz was originally legally recognized as male by the State of Texas before receiving a court ordered change of sex).

This is a vitally important issue for the Transgender community in Texas. The ability to be legally recognized as their gender of identity is crucial to obtaining employment, housing and navigating the legal system. An additional recognition of the ability of courts to issue that legal document would benefit the community tremendously.

There will likely be several versions of voter ID legislation filed this session. It is probable that some elements of each will be included in the final version of the bill - which will likely be carried by a major player in the Republican Party. Riddle is a little too extreme for the Republican leadership, it seems unlikely to me that she would carry the final version.

The question now is - how long before Riddle discovers what she, almost certainly accidentally, filed; at what point will she or someone else try to remove it from the bill and will anyone have to guts to try to stop them?

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*bills are numbered in the order they are filed except for the first 15 bills which are reserved for the budget and the speakers priorities - so HB 16 is the first bill filled.

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