Online Extra: Political Notes: CA LGBT legislation advances
by Matthew S. Bajko
California lawmakers advanced a slate of LGBT legislation by the deadline to pass the bills out of their house of origin.
The package of laws includes banning state-funded travel to states that discriminate against LGBT people, providing suicide prevention to LGBT students, designating gender-neutral bathrooms in state buildings, and protecting same-sex couples that use pregnancy surrogates.
Lawmakers had until last Friday, June 3, to vote on the bills introduced in their chamber. The week prior to the deadline saw the quick turnaround by state lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 1408, authored by Senator Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), which ended a restriction preventing HIV-positive Californians from donating organs to HIV-positive transplant recipients.
At the urging of a UCSF doctor, who feared for the life of one of his HIV-positive patients if he didn't get a liver transplant in time, the Legislature fast-tracked votes on the bill, and Governor Jerry Brown signed it into law Friday, May 27.
It was the first bill to be adopted this legislative session backed by Equality California, the statewide LGBT advocacy group. EQCA is now tracking five pieces of LGBT-related legislation as they await final approval in either the state Assembly or Senate before being sent later this summer to Brown for his signature.
Two of the more high-profile bills involve bathroom access for transgender individuals. Last month the Assembly voted 55-19 to pass Assembly Bill 1732, the Equal Restroom Access Act authored by Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), which would require all single-occupancy restrooms in businesses, government buildings and places of public accommodation to be available to everyone.
"Nothing is more important than our civil rights and we just sent a powerful message to the nation. We don't legislate hate in California," stated Ting following the May 9 vote. "Our actions show that there are simple, safe, and respectful choices to ensure that everyone's rights are protected."
On the same day the Assembly approved, by a vote of 54-21, AB 1887, authored by gay Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell). It would prohibit state-funded or sponsored travel to any state that has enacted a law, since June 26, 2015, that voids or repeals existing state or local protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
It would also cover those states that have enacted a law that authorizes or requires discrimination against same-sex couples or their families on those bases. The bill is a response to states like North Carolina, which earlier this year rescinded Charlotte's local LGBT anti-discrimination ordinance and required transgender individuals to use public restrooms based on their gender assigned at birth.
"Just as we strive to be a state that provides equal opportunity for all, we should not be spending our tax dollars in states that allow discrimination on the basis of religion. We are stronger by being inclusive," stated Low.
On April 14 the Senate voted 34-2 to pass SB 1005 by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara). The legislation modernizes the language in more than a dozen sections of California code to replace the terms "husband" and "wife" to the gender-neutral term "spouse."
It follows on the heels of a number of code language clean up bills that gay state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) passed in previous years. Jackson introduced it not only in response to same-sex couples being able to legally marry in the state, but also in recognition of those same-sex couples in registered domestic partnerships. The code sections that reference "spouses" would include registered domestic partners under the bill.
"By removing outdated language from the state code, the law will now accurately reflect the rights of registered domestic partners and married couples in California," stated Jackson. "This helps ensure the equal and fair treatment of all couples in California."
The Assembly unanimously voted 78-0 last Tuesday, May 31, to pass AB 2349 by Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco), which aims to protect parents of children conceived through surrogacy in California from having their rights violated outside the state. It would clarify that California courts have jurisdiction over parentage cases arising from gestational surrogacy arrangements in states that discriminate against same-sex couples.
The bill would also protect the names of egg and/or sperm donors from being revealed in surrogacy contracts. Chiu's office has pointed to cases in Alabama and Texas involving same-sex couples that went to court to defend prior judgments regarding their parental rights.
"We must do all we can to prevent wanted children from getting snatched away from their loving families," stated Chiu, who became a father himself earlier this year.
LGBT student bills pass
Last Thursday, June 2, Assembly members approved 67-6, with seven abstentions, AB 2246 by Assemblyman Patrick O'Donnell (D-Long Beach), which would require all school districts in the state to adopt comprehensive suicide prevention plans for students in grades 7-12.
Currently, state education codes leave it up to the individual school districts to develop suicide prevention curriculum. The bill would make it a requirement and instruct the state Department of Education to develop and maintain a model policy school districts could use as a guide.
LGBT groups are supporting the bill due to high suicide rates among LGBT youth. And O'Donnell has suggested the state could model its guide after a suicide prevention policy developed by the Trevor Project, which focuses on LGBT youth.
"AB 2246 will protect every student in California, especially our vulnerable LGBTQ youth who attempt suicide at significantly higher rates," stated O'Donnell, who chairs the Assembly Education Committee. "With parents and schools partnering together, we can prevent the tragic loss of many young lives."
By a consent vote May 19 the Assembly approved AB 1675 by Assemblyman Mark Stone (D-Santa Cruz). It would ensure that minors who participate in acts of prostitution are treated as victims of sexual exploitation instead of as criminals, noted EQCA.
Due to LGBT youth, especially those who are homeless, engaging in survival sex acts, the bill is being supported by a number of LGBT advocacy groups.
On May 26 the Senate voted 25-13 to pass SB 1146 by gay Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens). It would close a loophole that allows private universities to discriminate against students and staff based on their gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation.
According to EQCA, at least six California private schools have been granted exemptions by the federal Department of Education to Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation and gender identity, among other things, in education programs and activities that receive any federal funding. Yet, under current rules, the universities do not have to disclose they received the exemption to their students or staff.
Thus, contends EQCA, many students "are completely unaware" of the potential consequences they might face if their sexual orientation or gender identity does not align with their university's values. Lara's bill would require the universities to not only publicize their Title IX exemption on campus but also to disclose that information to the California Student Aid Commission.
Also under the legislation, an individual that encounters discrimination at a school claiming a Title IX exemption could pursue a remedy through a civil action.
"These universities have a license to discriminate and students have absolutely no recourse. Addressing this issue is long overdue," stated Lara.
A separate bill, AB 1888 authored by Assemblyman Low, would have prohibited the use of Cal Grant funding at California academic institutions that seek waivers to allow them to discriminate against LGBT people. It died May 27, however, in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
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