2007 LGBT California Legislative Wrap-Up By Alex Sachs, SDDC Legislative Advocate, and by EQCA
While, for the second time, the Governor vetoed the most important LGBT rights legislation presented to him—the freedom to marry for same-sex couples—the Governor signed seven pro–LGBT bills sponsored by legislative Democrats, including bills to strengthen safeguards for LGBT and questioning youth. Three measures designed to protect students in public schools and youth in California’s juvenile justice facilities were signed into law. The two school bills ensure that teachers and school administrators understand their responsibilities under California law and that protections for all California students are rigorously enforced. The juvenile justice bill establishes a youth bill of rights to protect young people from discrimination and creates a toll-free hotline youth can call if they feel their rights have been violated. Also signed were bills to allow domestic partners to choose a common family name when they register with the state (sponsored by Assemblymember Fiona Ma) and to simplify the process for domestic partners filing joint state income tax returns in 2008 (authored by State Senator Carole Migden). Also, the Civil Rights Act of 2007, part of a multi-year overhaul of the state’s civil rights laws, was signed into law. This bill, sponsored by Assemblymember John Laird (D-Santa Cruz) strengthens and clarifies 51 provisions in state law to prohibit bias based on race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, ethnicity, age, disability, medical condition, marital status, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation. In addition, State Senator Christine Kehoe’s Fair and Equal Taxation for Surviving Partners Act, legislation that ends tax increases for domestic partners who separated or lost a partner before a 2006 law went into effect protecting them against unfair property reassessments. Also approved without requiring the governor’s signature were Kehoe’s resolution calling on the federal government to recall the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and Assemblymember Mike Eng’s resolution asking Congress and the president to strengthen the nation’s hate crimes law to include sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.
In addition, California’s budget for the first time includes a provision to fund programs that specifically serve LGBT community as well as a budget provision including $300,000 earmarked to aid LGBT victims of domestic violence.
Senate Approves Tax Relief for Domestic Partners
Kehoe Bill, Sponsored by EQCA, Rolls Back Inequitable Property Taxes Paid by Some Same-Sex Couples
The Senate approved legislation that provides relief to domestic partners who paid unexpected, discriminatory property taxes prior to Jan. 1, 2006. SB 559 passed the Senate with a 23-12 vote.
The Fair and Equal Taxation for Surviving Partners Act, which is authored by Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, and sponsored by Equality California, rolls back tax increases for domestic partners who separated or lost a partner before a 2006 law went into effect protecting them against unfair property reassessments.
“When families are in crisis, the last thing they need to worry about is an increased financial burden, which could force them to lose their home,” said EQCA Executive Director Geoff Kors. “Before 2006, domestic partners faced undue tax hardships upon the death of their loved one or upon separation. Until there is marriage for same-sex couples in California, the inequalities created by domestic partnerships need to be remedied by legislation like this.”
California law allows certain exemptions from the fair market value reassessment of property upon a change in ownership. Transfers between married spouses, domestic partners, parent and child, and grandparent and grandchild are excluded from reassessment, sheltering them from an increase in tax burden when property changes hands between family members.
Although domestic partners received this tax exemption beginning on Jan. 1, 2006, couples that transferred property prior to that date did not receive the same benefit. Kehoe’s Fair and Equal Taxation for Surviving Partners Act would apply this exemption to registered domestic partners who were wrongly taxed before 2006, ensuring that their property tax bills are adjusted accordingly.
“This legislation ensures that all loving and committed couples are treated fairly and receive equal tax protections,” said Sen. Kehoe. “Domestic partners that were vulnerable to costly property tax reassessments deserve relief.”
Senate Passes Resolution Calling for End of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”
Measure Supporting End of Anti-LGBT Discrimination in the Military, Authored by Sen. Kehoe and Sponsored by EQCA, Passes 23-12
The California Senate passed a resolution asking the federal government to abandon its discriminatory military policy against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans. SJR 6 calls for the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which prevents LGBT people from serving openly in the military. Senators approved the resolution with a 23-12 vote.
“Talented, dedicated service members are forced to leave the military or lie about their personal and family lives simply because of their sexual orientation,” said EQCA Executive Director Geoff Kors. “We should honor and respect every service member, without exception, for choosing to defend and protect our nation. Treating LGBT soldiers any differently should not be an option.”
SJR 6, authored by Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, and sponsored by Equality California, asks Congress and President George W. Bush to adopt the Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2007 (H.R. 1246). The federal bill would repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and prohibit discrimination in the military based on sexual orientation. This resolution is co-authored by a total of 10 California lawmakers, and is part of EQCA’s “Empowering Our Communities” legislative agenda.
“The ability to recruit and retain some of the best and brightest Americans for the armed forces is severely hindered by excluding an entire group of military personnel based on their sexual orientation,” said Sen. Kehoe. “Countless LGBT people have honorably served our country throughout history, and continue to do so. They have earned their right to serve.”
An estimated 65,000 LGBT service members are currently on active duty, and the U.S. has about 1 million LGBT veterans. Under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” more than 11,000 service members have been discharged, including many who have held critical occupations.
Assembly & Senate Pass Safe Schools Bill Filling Gaps in California’s Anti–Bias Laws
Levine Bill, Co-Sponsored by EQCA and AACRE, Protects all Students, Including LGBT Youth from Harassment and Bias
SACRAMENTO – Lawmakers in the Assembly and Senate approved a measure, AB 394, that would fill in the gaps in California’s safe schools law, which is designed to keep bias and harassment out of the classroom. The bill was authored by Assemblymember Lloyd Levine, D-Van Nuys, and co-sponsored by Equality California and Asian Americans for Civil Rights and Equality.
Senate Passes Student Civil Rights Act, Protecting All California Students
Kuehl’s SB 777, Sponsored by EQCA, Strengthens State Education Policies to Prevent Bias and Discrimination
The California Senate passed legislation that would protect all California students from harassment and bias in public schools based on their gender identity or sexual orientation. Legislators approved SB 777, authored by Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, and sponsored by Equality California, by a 23-13 vote.
The Student Civil Rights Act ensures that all students in publicly-funded schools, including those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), clearly understand the protections they are provided under state law. SB 777 creates uniform nondiscrimination standards within the state’s education code and clarifies the responsibility of school officials to ensure a safe learning environment.
“Schools need clear direction – not mixed messages -from the state to adopt adequate policies to protect all youth,” said EQCA Executive Director Geoff Kors. “Inconsistencies in state law create significant gaps that leave students vulnerable to harassment and bias and unaware of their rights. SB 777 helps fill those gaps so that all youth are protected.”
Nearly 30 percent of youth in grades seven to 11 in California have experienced harassment or bullying based on their actual or perceived race or ethnicity, religion, disability, gender and sexual orientation, according to the California Healthy Kids Survey released in 2006. Kuehl’s measure strengthens existing nondiscrimination laws to protect students based on these characteristics. SB 777 covers publicly-funded schools and activities, including alternative and charter schools, postsecondary institutions, instructional materials and financial aid programs.
“Seven years after legislation protecting students from discrimination and harassment in all public school settings took effect, our young people are still being subjected to violence and ridicule on a daily basis in the classroom and in the school yard,” said Sen. Kuehl. “We simply have to do better in protecting our students, and SB 777 is an important part of the solution.”
“Right wing extremists have recently attacked this bill, grossly distorting the facts about what the legislation does,” said Kors. “The Student Civil Rights Act protects all youth, not only those who identify as LGBT, from discrimination so they all have the opportunity to succeed in school and thrive in life.”
DPs Now Able to File Joint CA Income Taxes
A landmark bill was signed in California that enables registered domestic partners to file state income taxes jointly and have their earned income treated as community property for state tax purposes. Senate Bill 1827, the State Income Tax Equity Act was sponsored by Equality California (EQCA) and authored by Senator Carole Migden (D-San Francisco).
“This is a historic day for equality,” said Senator Migden. “The Governor’s signature on my tax equity bill gives lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) families, who share the same costs and responsibilities that go with parenthood or being a spouse, the same tax benefits afforded to married couples. At last we acknowledge the equal contributions of LGBT households and remove the tax inequity that has been suffered by these families.”
An average family of four with one stay at home parent could save as much as $2,000 a year by filing jointly.
“This bill provides important tax relief to domestic partners on the same terms as married couples,” said Geoff Kors, EQCA executive director. “We appreciate Senator Migden’s leadership and the Governor’s support in helping domestic partners be better able to provide for their families because their tax bill will be reduced.”