Debra Danburg was a representative of the Democratic Party in the state of Texas from 1981 to 2003. She was a dynamic leader who brought about significant changes in many outdated laws. She is an attorney in private practice and has dealt with many criminal, as well as civil, cases. Debra Danburg represented district 137 in Houston, which encompassed Montrose, The Heights, Memorial Park, Greenway Plaza, Highland Village, the Galleria and Gulfton areas in Houston.
Debra Danburg was born in Houston in the year 1951. The Danburgs are long-time residents of the Heights, part of the District which Danburg served. She began working on her bachelor’s degree at the age of 16 at the University of Houston. She actively took part in the Student Association and was eventually elected for the post of vice-president in 1973-74. Danburg obtained a bachelor’s in sociology in 1974 and in 1979 received her law degree from the University of Houston Bates College of Law. She served as an administrative aide to Ron Waters from 1976-1980 before she ran for election as a Democratic Party candidate for the former District 79.
During the five years that she worked for Waters, Danburg researched, wrote and encouraged legislation. She was involved in issues ranging from the Equal Rights Amendment to street and sewer repairs. She obtained governmental appointments for constituents and prevented the merger of two local precincts, which would have disenfranchised voters. She was also a member of the Democratic Executive Committee during this time.
Debra Danburg was elected to the 67th Legislature for her first term in 1981. She served on various committees during her tenure in the Legislature. She was the Chair of the Elections Committee during the 73rd and 74th Legislatures (1993-1997) and of the Subcommittee on Budget & Oversight in the 71st Legislature (1989-1991). Danburg was also the vice-chair of the Committee on Cultural and Historic Resources. Additionally, she was a member of the Committees on State Affairs, Business and Industry, Criminal Jurisprudence, State Affairs and Appropriations.
Debra Danburg was instrumental in bringing about legislation concerning women’s reproductive rights. She strongly opposed pro-life groups and successfully upheld laws protecting a woman’s right to choose. Danburg also argued for an “open mind” on abortion in order that women could have “clean, licensed and safe” abortions, thus preventing unnecessary deaths resulting from illegal and unsafe clinics.
One of her most significant achievements as a legislator was the passage of HB 1730, which made important changes in the old rape laws. Danburg coined the term “sexual assault” to replace “rape” which would henceforth include all genders and all acts of rape and attempted rape. The bill signified the amount of violence involved in the acts and hence removed any kind of “pleasure” references. Her law became a model for other states and was eventually applied nationwide. Danburg was also successful in passing HB 263, which ended spousal exemption from sexual assault. Spouses could now report marital rape, which eventually could lead to prosecution. She also introduced a landmark bill on stalking to join those other states where stalking was considered an offense.
Another of Danburg’s important accomplishments was the passage of the “3-G” legislation. She was the first woman to pass this bill, which would stop parole and “good time” early release of criminals convicted of capital murder, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated robbery or aggravated sexual assault. It was observed that these criminals often commit violent acts within one year of their release. With the passage of this bill, such criminals would not be released until they served their full terms. Danburg also supported alternative punishments based on the brutality of the crimes. Some of the options included drug rehabilitation counseling, restitution centers and boot camps. She sponsored legislation that endorsed the Sexual Offender Treatment Program, aimed at rehabilitating sex crime offenders before they got out of prison. She supported the idea of reserving prisons for the worst offenders.
Danburg sponsored a number of initiatives toward preventing hate crimes. She worked to pass legislation which would grant and protect the rights of gays and lesbians. Her proposals sought to restrain perpetrators of hate crimes against homosexuals, religious groups and racial minorities. She filed legislation preventing discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, origin, or sexual orientation. She was responsible for introducing the first bill to allow marriages with no regard to sexual orientation. HIV/AIDS also was another major concern for Danburg. She passed legislation to facilitate easy purchase of drugs like AZT, to protect the right to insurance regardless of blood tests, and to create councils to aid state and local agencies to fight HIV and AIDS. She supported organizations such as the Houston Gay & Lesbian Political Caucus, AIDS Foundation of Houston and The Diana Foundation, and she actively took part in Lesbian/Gay Pride Week.
The last of Debra Danburg’s major concerns, represented in this collection, was the Electric Utility Restructuring bill. Danburg was part of a delegation that visited California and Pennsylvania in order to study their utility models and hence implement a similar model in Texas. The bill allowed customers to choose their electric provider and, conversely, the providers could compete with each other to give their customers the best deals.
Danburg also was involved in many other issues concerning METRO and the Southwest Freeway in Houston, as well as a number of other concerns local to Houston. As a member of the House for twenty-two years, she was an experienced leader who played a key role in ensuring equal opportunity and justice to Texas citizens.
Danburg was the recipient of many awards within and outside the legislature. She received the Best Legislator Award during her first year at the Capitol. She received the Most Effective Legislator Award by the National Organization for Women and, in recognition of her activities, received the Outstanding Legislator Award in 1990 by the Texas Association of Symphony Orchestras. Her list of other awards include Alumna of the Year from the UH College of Social Sciences (1993), the Women’s Suffrage Award (1991) and the Environmental Defense Award (1987).