Hundreds of Texans gathered at the state capitol throughout the weekend to speak out against anti-transgender and anti-abortion measures pushed by the state’s Republican governor and the GOP-dominated state legislature in a special session that began July 18.
The breakneck speed at which the state senate has moved during the special session has been criticized by Democrats for subverting the democratic process. Several senate committees have held hearings on a range of controversial proposals, including increased restrictions on abortion care and regulations targeting transgender people.
State Sen. José Rodríguez (D-El Paso), chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus, told the Texas Observer that senate leadership is not allowing lawmakers or the public sufficient time to review the legislation being considered.
“And it’s important for people to be prepared to address particular bills when the hearing comes, so it’s not acceptable,” Rodríguez said. “The bottom line is this is subverting the deliberative process.”
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The Committee on State Affairs on Friday heard more than ten hours of public testimony on a pair of bills that would restrict the rights of transgender people to use the bathroom or changing facility that aligns with their gender identity.
State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) introduced SB 3 and SB 91, nearly identical bills that would require multiple-occupancy restrooms, showers, and changing facilities operated by public schools or local governments to only be used by “persons of the same sex as stated on a person’s birth certificate.”
Kolkhorst introduced a similar bill during this year’s regular legislative session. The bill was passed by the senate but languished in the house and failed to pass before the legislature adjourned. Supporters of such discriminatory “bathroom bills” claim the intent of the legislation is not to target the transgender community but to protect the privacy of women and children.
Kolkhorst during her opening statement said the legislation was a response to guidelines issued by the Obama administration that directed public schools to create protections and accommodations for transgender students. Those guidelines have since been rescinded by the Trump administration.
Kolkhorst chastised the opponents of the legislation for putting “dollars before daughters,” and framed the legislation as protecting the gains made for women’s rights under Title IX. “This issue is about much more than bathrooms,” Kolkhorst said. “SB 3 … is about finding a balance between the right to declare your gender and the right of a parent to protect their child.”
More than 200 people signed up to testify on the bill, and the vast majority of those who spoke during the hearing opposed the anti-transgender legislation, reported the Texas Tribune.
The committee heard testimony from several transgender people about the effect the bill would have on their day-to-day lives, as well as testimony from people representing businesses and community organizations on the economic impact if the GOP bill becomes law.
Supporters of “bathroom bill” legislation often claim that allowing transgender people to use restrooms that correspond with their gender identity puts women and children in danger. Opponents of the so-called bathroom bill, meanwhile, testified that it jeopardizes the safety of transgender people.
Ashley Smith, a transgender woman from San Antonio, testified that she would be required by law to use the men’s restroom, reported the Texas Observer. “You know that transgender women encounter violence at a much higher level than the general public,” Smith told lawmakers. “I am scared to think about what some people will do to us if this bill becomes law.”
At least 22 transgender people died as a result of violence in 2016, according to data from the Human Rights Campaign. So far in 2017, at least 15 transgender people have died as a result of violence. In April, Kenne McFadden, a trans woman in San Antonio, was found dead in a case that police are now ruling a homicide.
Despite the overwhelming opposition to the bills, the committee voted to pass SB 3 with a vote of 8 to 1, with only Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) voting against the bill.
Maryann Long, an Austin nurse-midwife, testified against the bills and expressed frustration with Texas lawmakers’ continued efforts to restrict access to abortion care, reported the Dallas Morning News.
“The Republicans here keep trying to make it more and more difficult to get a safe, legal abortion in Texas,” Long said. “We’ve been fighting this fight for decades, and I’m tired of it.”
SB 4 would prohibit any state or local government agency from approving contracts with an abortion provider or affiliate of the provider; SB 10 would require doctors that perform abortions to submit reports on abortion-related complications; and SB 73 would require doctors who provide abortion care to submit reports on abortions performed on minors.
The committee voted 6 to 3 along party lines to pass all three bills.
The senate Committee on Business and Commerce on Saturday heard public testimony on a bill that would prohibit private health insurance plans from covering abortion care and ban abortion coverage in health insurance plans offered to state employees under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
SB 8, sponsored by state Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-The Woodlands), would prohibit health insurance plans offered through the ACA exchange from providing “coverage for elective abortion” and would require an individual to purchase “supplemental coverage for elective abortion.”
The legislation is similar to a bill introduced by Creighton during this year’s regular session. Creighton’s bill was passed by the senate and approved by a house committee but failed to pass the full house before the legislature adjourned.
Nan Little Kirkpatrick, executive director of the Texas Equal Access Fund, told committee members that the bill would restrict access to abortion for people with low incomes, reported the Austin American-Statesman.
“We believe that abortion is health care. It is provided by medical professionals with medical licenses in medical settings,” Kirkpatrick said. “We believe bills like this just put people in harm’s way.”
The committee voted to pass SB 8 with a 7-2 vote. Zaffirini was joined by John Whitmire (D-Houston) in voting against the bill.
All of the bills passed by committees now head to the full senate for further consideration and may receive a vote for final approval this week.