A bill that would require a number of state agencies in California to collect LGBT demographic information survived its first hearing in the Senate this week.
Assembly Bill 959, authored by Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco), is known as the LGBT Disparities Reduction Act. As the Bay Area Reporter has noted previously, the legislation would instruct state agencies overseeing health and social services programs to begin collecting data on sexual orientation and gender identity no later than July 1, 2017.
It passed out of the Senate Committee on Governmental Organization Tuesday, July 12 by a vote of 12-1. Republican Senator Sharon Runner was the only dissenting vote; the bill did receive support from the other three Republican senators on the committee.
The bill moves next to the Senate Appropriations Committee, where it will be heard in late August.
“Understanding the health disparities our LGBT communities disproportionately face across the state is long overdue,” stated Chiu. “We must take this first essential step towards overcoming the historical invisibility of the LGBT community to the state when it comes to crucial resources and services.”
Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill in 2013, partly due to the cost associated with having to upgrade state forms and computer systems. Over the ensuing years the number of LGBT advocates, health officials, and academic researchers speaking out on the need for better data about the LGBT community has only grown.
New York state has been leading the way on the matter, with officials at a variety of agencies in the Empire State already collecting LGBT information. Equality California, the statewide LGBT advocacy group, is sponsoring Chiu’s bill and has made LGBT data collection one of its top legislative goals this session.
“While we have accomplished much in recent years, both in California and nationwide, eliminating healthcare disparities suffered by LGBT people is one of the next major chapters of our movement,” stated EQCA Executive Director Rick Zbur. “The pervasive discrimination still confronting our community shows up in our overall health, with high rates of substance abuse, depression and suicide, but we can’t begin to treat the problem if we don’t know its size. This legislation will help public programs target those most in need.”
AB 959 specifically directs four California departments to collect “voluntary self-identification information” pertaining to LGBT people. The agencies are the departments of health care services, public health, social services, and aging.
A fifth state agency that had initially been included, fair employment and housing, is no longer covered by Chiu’s bill, which was last amended July 7. The list was pared down to focus more on social service and health data, with additional agencies added in the future should the initial legislation be adopted this year.
The bill also specifies that, due to safety concerns and “the sensitive general nature of data relating to sexual orientation and gender identity,” the quartet of agencies will be prohibited from publicly disclosing any personal identification information “that would allow the identification of an individual who provided voluntary self-identification information pertaining to sexual orientation and gender identity.”