News Law and Policy

Texas Special Session Ends, But the Battle Over Anti-Trans ‘Bathroom Bills’ Is Just Beginning

Teddy Wilson

JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president for policy and political affairs at the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement that Texans can “breathe a temporary sigh of relief."

The Texas House of Representatives adjourned on Tuesday evening, effectively ending the special legislative session.

While the Republican-controlled state legislature passed a handful of bills on Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s conservative agenda, there was one item that did not make it to the governor’s desk: the “bathroom bill,” which would restrict the ability of transgender Texans to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.

Republican lawmakers failed to gain the necessary support to pass the anti-trans legislation. One Democrat in the Texas Senate, Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. (D-Brownsville), voted for the bill, but moderate Republicans blocked it in the house.

JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president for policy and political affairs at the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement that Texans can “breathe a temporary sigh of relief,” but warned that advocates will keep a “watchful eye” against further attacks on transgender people.

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“We hope that this time, this issue remains settled: Texans don’t want harmful, anti-transgender legislation,” Winterhof said.

John Wittman, spokesperson for Gov. Abbott, said in a statement that the “special session has produced a far better Texas than before.” Most political observers doubt the governor will call a second special session.

Among the legislation Abbott did sign was a pair of anti-choice bills that would prohibit insurance coverage of abortion care for plans offered on the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges and increase reporting requirements for abortion providers.
Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, called the bills the latest in a “long line of politically-motivated restrictions on abortion access” passed by the Texas state legislature.

“It’s long past time for elected officials in our state to stop attacking abortion access to score political points and actually do the work their constituents elected them to do,” Busby said in a statement. “The majority of Texans who support abortion access will continue to make their voices heard until legislators stop shaming people for their private health care decisions.”

While the special session may have temporarily ended what has become a national political battle over the rights and safety of the transgender community, the war within the Texas GOP is just beginning.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) during a press conference fired rhetorical broadsides at House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) for failing to pass conservative bills including the anti-trans legislation. Patrick criticized the speaker for treating the governor’s agenda “like horse manure.”

The conservative members of the Texas House Freedom Caucus have expressed frustration about their inability to move forward their legislative priorities. They also place the blame largely on Straus for preventing bills from receiving floor votes.

Members of the Freedom Caucus have already set in motion a plan to oust the speaker. A proposal to set protocols for choosing a Republican candidate for speaker was discussed on Wednesday morning during a meeting of the House Republican Caucus.
But it remains unclear if the strategy will be successful.

An unnamed Republican Caucus member told Quorum Report that significant support remained for Straus. “If we had held the vote today, Speaker Straus would have been overwhelmingly re-elected,” the GOP lawmaker said.

Texas Democratic lawmakers welcomed the end of the special session and the demise of several pieces of legislation that they opposed.

Rep. Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie) told the Associated Press that the special session was a “waste of time and taxpayer dollars.” Turner criticized his GOP colleagues for their focus on “dangerous, political policies” instead of the needs of the Texas people.

“The good news is that some of the most dangerous ideas, including the ‘bathroom bill,’ attacks on teachers and other public employees, and attempts to further eliminate women’s healthcare services all failed,” Turner said.

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