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Texas GOP Maneuvers for Eleventh-Hour Passage of Anti-Transgender ‘Bathroom Bill’

Teddy Wilson

"All discrimination is bad, full stop," said Chuck Smith, CEO of Equality Texas. "The Texas lawmakers of the 85th legislative session are on the wrong side of history."

Republicans in the Texas legislature are trying to advance legislation that would restrict where transgender people can use the bathroom, as state house and senate lawmakers have attached amendments to unrelated bills to pass the discriminatory measure before the legislature adjourns on Memorial Day. 

The state senate in March passed SB 6, sponsored by state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), which requires people to use bathroom and changing facilities based on their genders at birth as opposed to the gender with which they identify. The house has been unwilling to take up similar legislation despite public pressure from conservative groups. 

However, after lawmakers in the far-right Texas Freedom Caucus staged a revolt against the house leadership and blocked dozens of bills from passage, the chamber advanced some of the caucus’ priority legislation

Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement that lawmakers seem to be “determined to make discrimination Texas’s chief export.”

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“The Texas legislature is cynically advancing an aggressive agenda of discriminatory legislation for political gain,” said Rebecca Robertson, legal and policy director for the ACLU of Texas, in a statement. “Transgender children aren’t bargaining chips for lawmakers to trade, and their safety and dignity are non-negotiable.”

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) announced in November that North Carolina-style legislation targeting transgender people would be among his legislative priorities. He has threatened to force a special session if the Republican-led legislature doesn’t push through a “bathroom bill.”

The house on Sunday debated a measure restricting where transgender students can use the bathroom as an amendment to SB 2078, legislation which focuses on “multihazard emergency operations plans and other school safety measures.” Rep. Chris Paddie (R-Marshall) offered an amendment that would mandate schools require “single-occupancy facilities for use by a student who does not wish to use the facilities designated for use or commonly used by persons of the student ’s biological sex.”

The regulations would apply to “restrooms, locker rooms, and changing facilities” at the state’s public schools and open-enrollment charter schools.

Paddie claimed during the floor debate that the amendment was intended to “address child safety.” When Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) asked his colleague, “How many transgender students have attacked anyone in a bathroom at a Texas school?” the lawmaker could not provide an an example.

“Not off the top of my head. No, sir,” Paddie said.

There is no evidence to support claims made by proponents of the so-called bathroom bills. 

While the scope of the proposal is more limited than the bill passed by the senate, Moody said the amendment still represented a threat to transgender students. “Let’s be very honest and clear here: This amendment is the bathroom bill, and the bathroom bill is an attack on transgender people,” Moody said. “Some people don’t want to admit that. Maybe that’s because they’re ashamed. And make no mistake about it—this is shameful.”

The amendment was approved Sunday by the GOP-held house, which on Monday approved final passage of SB 2078. 

Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) on Tuesday night said he would reject the house amendment,  reported the Texas Tribune. “I heard it reported as a compromise, but it really doesn’t do anything,” Taylor said. “You have to have a separate facility, but no one is required to go there.”

The senate in the early hours of Wednesday morning approved an amendment to an unrelated bill that added the language from the bill passed by the state senate. The amendment was attached to HB 4180, legislation that would make changes to state laws governing counties and other municipalities.

“I’ve looked for days for some vehicles to put this amendment on, understanding that Senate Bill 6 would not be heard in the House,” Kolkhorst told the Texas Tribune. “And there was no other vehicles to put this on, and this one, I think, is germane.”

Kolkhorst and other lawmakers will have to look for another vehicle to restrict the rights of transgender Texans.

Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), the house sponsor of HB 4180, told the Austin American-Statesman on Wednesday morning that amendment bill is dead on arrival in the house, and he will withdraw the bill from consideration. “They just wasted hours on a dead bill,” Coleman said. “I’m not stupid, the joke’s on them. This bill is never going to be moved by me, on this side.”

Chuck Smith, CEO of Equality Texas, said in a statement Sunday that “no amount of discrimination is acceptable,” and rejected the notion of compromise legislation restricting transgender people’s rights. “All discrimination is bad, full stop,” Smith said. “The Texas lawmakers of the 85th legislative session are on the wrong side of history.”

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