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Disabled Texans say Bathroom Bill Could Further Complicate Their Lives

For Octavio Armendariz, using the bathroom while he’s home is no big deal. When the autistic eight-year-old is out in public with his mom, it’s a different story.

Rosanna Armendariz isn’t comfortable with Octavio, who has the social and emotional development of a three-year-old, navigating the men’s bathroom alone. So she brings him into the women’s bathroom with her instead.

“We started getting looks from the time he was around seven,” she said. “I guess by that age many boys are using the men’s room, and since autism is an invisible disability, people don’t automatically realize why my son would be in the women’s room with me.”

As lawmakers this summer debate yet another controversial measure regulating bathroom use based on biological sex, disabled Texans say they — like many transgender men and women — believe the Legislature is further complicating something that’s already difficult to navigate.

On Tuesday, the Texas Senate advanced Senate Bill 3, which would restrict bathroom use in local government buildings and public schools based on the sex listed on a person’s birth certificate or DPS-issued ID, and gut parts of local nondiscrimination ordinances meant to allow transgender people to use public bathrooms of their choice.

The bill’s author, state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, argues her measure is meant to protect privacy in the bathroom and would dissuade sexual predators from taking advantage of trans-inclusive bathrooms policies.

Rosanna Armendariz plays a motor skills game with her son, Octavio, at their home in El Paso. | Photo courtesy Ivan Pierre Aguirre for The Texas Tribune

But for many caretakers and disabled Texans, the issue goes much deeper. Rosanna Armendariz said she fears if a “bathroom bill” passes, people might think her son is breaking the law — even though the Senate’s version of the measure exempts people with disabilities.

“As my son gets older, someone might get upset and call the police if they see him in the women’s room,” she said. “It’s horrifying to think me or my disabled son could be subject to criminal prosecution just for using the toilet.”

In an effort to address this exact issue, state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, tacked an amendment on to Kolkhorst’s bill on Tuesday exempting disabled Texans from having to use the bathroom matching their biological sex.

Advocates for the disabled say it’s not enough: Not all disabilities are obvious, and even with Lucio’s amendment, they say, a person with a disability would be forced to prove they have one.

“When you look at the word ‘disability,’ it covers a very broad scope of people — from mental illness to physical disabilities to someone who might be in a wheelchair,” said Chase Bearden, director of advocacy and engagement for the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities. “You don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes.”

Initial bill fell short

A similar bill to regulate bathroom use failed during this spring’s regular legislative session, and Gov. Greg Abbott put “privacy” legislation on his wish list for lawmakers to address during this summer’s 30-day special session, which began July 18. Despite staunch opposition from the business community, law enforcement, LGBT advocates and transgender Texans, the Senate version of the bill was fast-tracked through the upper chamber and is now on its way to the Texas House, where it likely will get a chilly reception.

The measure senators supported during the regular legislative session, Senate Bill 6, included specific exemptions for people who needed assistance using the bathroom, including children younger than 10 and people accompanying children into a bathroom different than their biological sex.

The original text of this summer’s bill, SB 3, listed no such exemptions.

“Because of some of the signals we received from the governor’s office, we left [those exemptions] out,” Kolkhorst said when explaining her bill on the Senate floor.

The amendment Lucio added Tuesday exempts people giving and receiving assistance in the restroom, including children under 8, the elderly and disabled Texans, among others.

Amy Litzinger poses outside of a bathroom stall that’s too small for her and her attendant. Litzinger, along with many other disabled Texans, is concerned about the implications a “bathroom bill” will have on her and her attendants. | Photo courtesy Callie Richmond for The Texas Tribune

“Sen. Lucio added an amendment to clarify that anyone with a disability or their caregiver is exempted, which furthers the point that this legislation protects the privacy and dignity of everyone,” Kolkhorst said in a statement to The Texas Tribune.

But advocates argue the language of the amendment unfairly leaves the burden of proof on caretakers.

“It’s a good thing that legislators carved out an exception that recognizes the common use of caretakers for assistance, but the exception is not broad enough to address the reality of disability in the bathroom,” said Lucille Wood, a clinical professor at UT-Austin’s School of Law.

While the amended bill mirrors federal protections for disabled Texans and their caretakers, Wood said, it gives “sex segregation a voice,” which she worries will impact how disabled Texans navigate using the bathroom.

“It’s ratcheting up the political climate in which caretakers will have to demonstrate the person they’re helping really has a disability,” she said. “It is a climate in which fear is ruling the day. Fear over common sense.”

Bathrooms already an ordeal

Amy Litzinger knows firsthand what it’s like to endure stares in the restroom. The 29-year-old from Austin has quadriplegia and uses an attendant for everything from getting dressed to eating meals — and of course, using the bathroom.

“I can’t transfer myself in and out of my chair, so I’m never in a bathroom alone,” Litzinger said. “… I literally can’t go the bathroom by myself — physically. I don’t really have a choice.”

Before a committee meeting in the Texas Health and Human Services building, Amy Litzinger and one of her attendants, Jamie Massaro, demonstrate that they must leave the accessible bathroom stall door open because it is too small. | Photo courtesy Callie Richmond for The Texas Tribune

One of her attendants is transgender, she said. And when her attendant isn’t available, it’s sometimes up to her father to help her. While the current version of the bill wouldn’t penalize her attendant or her father, she said it adds to the stigma.

“Believe me, people aren’t taking opposite-gender people into the restroom because they want to,” Litzinger said. “… I don’t think most legislators understand how much an ordeal bathrooms already are for most of us that have disabilities.”

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • The rift over the bathroom bill in the Texas Legislature won’t end with the special session; it’s a prelude to the March 2018 primary elections. [link]
  • The Texas Senate backed a bill that would bar some transgender people from using bathrooms that match their gender identity in schools and buildings overseen by local governments. The bill would also nix parts of local nondiscrimination ordinances. [link]

Author:  ALEX SAMUELS – The Texas Tribune

Abbott, Patrick: More Work Needed as Special Session Threat Looms

THE WOODLANDS — With just over a week left in the legislative session — and the threat of a special session looming — Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Sunday said lawmakers still have more work to do.

Abbott was optimistic when asked if legislators will avoid an overtime round, saying things are “looking great,” especially after his office was up past midnight working through issues. But he also said “today will be a key day” — both chambers are convening later today — and suggested the property tax measure the House passed Saturday was not strong enough.

“As you know, I want to see the rate rollback part of property taxes achieved,” Abbott told The Texas Tribune after a bill-signing event here at a church. “And so we still have more work to do on property taxes. The session is not yet over.”

Abbott appeared to be referring to a proposal that would require local governments that want to raise property taxes by 5 percent or more to get voter approval. That proposal, Senate Bill 2, has stalled in the House, which passed a property tax measure Saturday that did not include the rollback provision.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott took turns preaching before signing Senate Bill 24 into law  at Grace Church in The Woodlands on May 21, 2017.  The legislation shields pastors' sermons from government subpoena power. (Photo by Michael Stravato)
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott took turns preaching before signing Senate Bill 24 into law at Grace Church in The Woodlands on May 21, 2017. The legislation shields pastors’ sermons from government subpoena power. (Photo by Michael Stravato)

Patrick has said he is prepared to go to a special session if the House does not act on the property tax issue and some version of a so-called “bathroom bill,” which would restrict transgender people from accessing restrooms in some public places that do not match their gender identity. Abbott, who has the power to call a special session, has said the two items are priorities in the home stretch, but has not gone as far as threatening a special session over them.

As he left the bill-signing ceremony, Patrick declined to comment when asked whether he was happy with the House’s property tax measure, saying he was not discussing issues at this time.

Asked about the possibility of a special session, Patrick held firm, saying: “I want to see bathrooms. I want to see a bathroom bill.”

“I’m willing to stay as long and until the place we’re staying in … freezes over, until we get that bill” passed, Patrick said during the bill-signing ceremony, with Abbott seated behind him.

Abbott’s remarks on property taxes were cheered by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, the Houston Republican who authored SB 2. The bill is on a tight timeline to make it to the House floor ahead of a critical Tuesday deadline.

“Without Senate Bill 2 as passed by the Senate being considered by the full House, there will be no property tax relief coming out of the 85th Regular Session,” Bettencourt said in a statement. “The governor said we still have more work to do on property taxes. I concur with that!”

Author:  PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

Businesses Opposed to SB 6 Contributed to Sponsors’ Campaigns

AUSTIN – Public records show several businesses that publicly oppose Senate Bill 6, the so-called “bathroom bill” in the Texas Legislature, have contributed thousands of dollars to the bill’s Republican sponsors.

Alex Kotch, an independent investigative reporter for the website Rewire, says 70 businesses signed a letter condemning the bill that would bar transgender people from using the restroom of their choice.

The businesses responded to a Texas Association of Business study that said the state could lose $8 billion or more if SB 6 becomes law.

The association’s executive director, Chris Wallace, warns that simply cannot happen.

“In Texas, we need to avoid the predicament that North Carolina’s in right now, and just completely reject SB 6 and any amendments that are related to SB 6 in terms of discriminatory-type language,” he stresses. “It’s just simply bad for business.”

The bill has passed the Texas Senate, where Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made it a priority. But it could face an uphill battle in the House, where Speaker Joe Straus opposes it.

Rewire reports that political action committees for 12 of the letter’s signers, including such companies as Dow Chemical, Hewlett Packard and United Continental, contributed $185,000 to 15 GOP senators listed as sponsors of SB 6.

The Texas Association of Business study predicts if the bill becomes law, the state’s economy, particularly the sports, tourism, and entertainment sectors, could lose convention business and face boycotts of major events.

Wallace says TAB members are likely to be more discerning in the future about which candidates they support.

“I think it’s just business as usual,” he states. “In the past, there’s been a kind of ‘friendly incumbent rule,’ but we’re going to take a new look at all of that, and that may not be the case moving forward.”

The North Carolina General Assembly voted to repeal and replace its bathroom bill last Friday. Lawmakers there were criticized for not going far enough in their replacement legislation to ensure the rights of transgender people.

Rewire obtained data for its story from the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

Author: Mark Richardson –  Texas News Service | This story was produced in partnership with Rewire.

Railroad Commission Bill Could Revive Debate on Bathrooms, Immigration

House Republicans will look to force a vote on the regulations in the Senate’s “bathroom bill.” And a Democratic lawmaker has an amendment aimed at forcing the business community to take sides in the sanctuary cities debate.

A Tuesday debate over the future of the state agency that regulates the oil and gas industry could instead become a showdown over immigration and where transgender Texans use the bathroom.

House Republicans will look to force a vote on the regulations proposed in the Senate’s controversial “bathroom bill,” which House Speaker Joe Straus has decried as “manufactured and unnecessary.” Tyler Republican Matt Schaefer has filed two amendments that would essentially require the Railroad Commission to enact some of the bathroom-related regulations proposed in Senate Bill 6 — a measure that would require people to use the bathrooms in public schools and government buildings that align with their “biological sex.”

A separate amendment by state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, appears to target transgender people by requiring the commission to define women business owners — who can qualify for certain benefits in contracting — on the basis of the “physical condition of being female, as stated on a person’s birth certificate.”

Schaefer and Tinderholt are members of the socially conservative Texas Freedom Caucus, which is expected to repeatedly offer up portions of the “bathroom bill” as amendments to other measures. On just the second day of the legislative session, Schaefer, who leads the caucus, unsuccessfully attempted to amend a routine resolution with language requiring people in the Capitol to use bathrooms corresponding with their biological sex.

On the immigration front, an amendment by state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, would require that a company regulated by or contracting with the Texas Railroad Commission certify that it doesn’t hire undocumented workers and charged with perjury if found to have lied. The amendment would also require the commission to alert Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the local district attorney if a company CEO or supervisor is in violation of the provision.

Anchia, the chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said he has no desire to expand state-based immigration enforcement, and doesn’t expect his fellow Democrats to vote for the amendment. It’s symbolic: He wants businesses to be more vocal against what he called extreme immigration proposals the Legislature is considering this session, specifically Senate Bill 4. That measure, passed by the Senate last month and now pending in a House committee, would ban “sanctuary” jurisdictions in Texas and vastly expand the immigration enforcement powers of local police.

“For Republicans to only demonize immigrants but not talk about the insatiable appetite on the part of businesses for immigrant workers is hypocrisy at its best,” he said.

The state already has a law that requires state agencies and contractors to use E-Verify, the federal electronic verification system that determines whether a worker is eligible for employment. But Anchia’s amendment goes beyond that by including companies that “indirectly” hire unauthorized labor — meaning they use contractors and subcontractors who hire independent laborers that aren’t classified as regular employees.

This won’t be the first time an immigration debate has raged on a seemingly unrelated bill. Anchia took part in a bruising debate earlier this month on a bill to reform the state’s child welfare system. State Rep. Mark Keough, R-The Woodlands, offered an amendment to withhold monthly payments to undocumented caretakers. It sparked a firestorm of opposition from Democrats and some moderate Republicans.

Anchia said at the time that business leaders have “ceded the field” — and it’s up to Democrats to take extreme measures, like his proposed amendment, to get them back in play.

“The current debate regarding immigrant workers has only focused on the enforcement of immigrants themselves,” he said.

Anchia said just hours after he pre-filed his amendment on Monday, he was approached by an “industry participant” who urged him to keep the bill “clean” – a common term used by stakeholders who don’t want the legislation altered significantly. He said if his amendment passes, it would be up to the oil and gas industry to convince lawmakers to remove the proposal during conference committee discussions, referring to the group of House and Senate members chosen by their respective leaders to iron out the differences in each chambers’ final bill.

Anchia said there will be more opportunities to make his point in the remaining months of the session, citing an upcoming bill on the Texas Department of Transportation as just one example.

Read related coverage:

  • Outnumbered and with time running out, Texas Democrats hoping to kill anti-“sanctuary” legislation are open to shining a spotlight on so-called “sanctuary industries” that often turn a blind eye toward hiring unauthorized labor.
  • The Texas “bathroom bill” has made it to the House but chamber leaders are hinting that the controversial legislation may never reach the chamber’s floor for a vote.

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Authors:  JULIÁN AGUILAR AND ALEXA URA – The Texas Tribune

State Senator Rodríguez’s Statement on Senate Bill 6

Austin – Senator José Rodríguez released the following statement, also to be placed in the Senate Journal, based on his comments on the Senate floor, regarding Senate Bill 6, which targets vulnerable Texans for discrimination:

I believe the dialogue we’ve had in this chamber, and in the media surrounding this bill, make clear that Senate Bill 6 is problematic in several ways.

It violates individual rights. It conflicts with federal civil rights laws, and more broadly, conflicts with the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection for all people. It is bad for business. It nullifies local control. It creates enormous liability issues for our schools and local governments.

While it purports to address a public safety issue, the testimony, from both law enforcement and from ordinary Texans, has made it clear: S.B. 6 will not make anyone safer. What it does is target the transgender and gender non-conforming community.

S.B. 6 makes these Texans, who are already too often targets of ridicule, discrimination, and violence, less safe. A transgender woman is a woman, and this law will make a transgender woman use a man’s bathroom.

There are laws against sexual assault or similar crimes that may happen in a bathroom. There is little evidence of people pretending to be transgender to commit those crimes, and to the degree they take place, they already are against the law. By contrast, there are high rates of harassment, assaults, and sexual offenses against people who are transgender. They are three times more likely than the general population to be victims of hate crimes. They are four times more likely to be victims of sexual assault than the general population. Up to a third of transgender people report being harassed by law enforcement when they do report the crimes.

No matter how many times proponents of this bill say it is not meant to target Texans who are transgender, the facts above, the record from the Senate hearing, and public statements by outside backers of this proposal, make it clear that this is exactly its purpose.

This is further revealed when even common sense amendments to support local schools in their current policies, protect vulnerable children from harassment, and keep public employees from demanding to see a person’s birth certificate were rejected.

This is not only abhorrent, it is unconstitutional. S.B. 6 conflicts with federal civil rights laws because it discriminates on the basis of sex. Both Title VII and Title IX of our federal civil rights laws expressly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex. S.B. 6 conflicts with EEOC and OSHA regulations regarding how employers, including state and local government employers, must treat transgender employees. Finally, because S.B. 6 cannot be reconciled with the equal protection guarantee of the U.S. Constitution, it would put school districts, municipalities, and other governmental entities in Texas in an untenable position. Simply put, S.B. 6 exposes school districts and other government entities to litigation and liability.

While doing so, it also hurts the private sector. As testimony indicated, visitor bureaus reported that if S.B. 6 passed, based on the organizations they have been dealing with, direct spending losses in Texas would total more than $400 million. This would result in a $23 million loss to the state, which we could use for other programs during this difficult budget cycle (for example, to hire additional CPS caseworkers for our broken foster care system).

It is tragic that we are spending time considering this state-sanctioned discrimination, which is premised on imagined problems and unfounded claims, when we should be debating the real issues facing our state.

Nonetheless, it is my hope that in all the news coverage that has surrounded S.B. 6, that members of the public have at least received an introduction to our Texas transgender community. I hope the public has begun to appreciate transgender Texans’ unique needs and concerns.

Most importantly, I hope the public has begun to recognize their shared humanity — that these are our sons and daughters, co-workers, neighbors and friends. They deserve the same respect, compassion, and constitutional rights as anyone else.

In my district in El Paso, I’m incredibly proud of the work of my office’s LGBTQ district advisory committee. One of the group’s earliest projects was to organize a transgender visibility project, which compiled photographs and personal narratives of transgender El Pasoans.

Through this project I was introduced to several of my transgender constituents, including Claudia, a 48-year-old mother of four who remembers early in her transition using the men’s room, and being bullied and being subject to unwelcomed sexual advances. We would put her in danger again if we pass S.B. 6.

I also met Mason, a former intern in my district office, who said, “most people don’t know what transgender people look like and they let other people tell them they should be afraid. I’m just a son, a husband, a future dad. Please, get to know us, you’ll see there’s nothing to fear.”

I commend the brave transgender Texans who offered testimony at the Capitol last week.

I know most transgender people did not ask for this attention and, in fact, would prefer not to have it. Transgender folks almost uniformly report being harassed at work, if they’re fortunate enough to find employment at all. Most will experience family rejection. Many will experience homelessness. Some reports suggest that, nationally, documented violence against transgender people — in particular transgender women of color — is at an all-time high.

All of this media attention is no doubt terror-making to people who may spend their lives just trying to pass; failing to do so may put their lives at risk.

I also commend the parents of transgender children, who really helped put a face on the real dangers S.B. 6 presents to their families. These parents shared their concerns that their child would fall into depression; that transition was necessary. They shared concerns that their children would be bullied at school with impunity, without intervention from a caring school official.

Texas schools have a duty to respect and protect these children.

Some would claim school districts are overreaching when they refuse to discriminate against students on the basis of their gender identity. The truth is, proposals that would “out” transgender youth and force them to use bathrooms that don’t align with their gender identity actually put those children in danger.

S.B. 6 sends a message to schools that they don’t need to support trans kids. In a country where a staggering 40 percent of trans individuals attempt suicide, suggesting that schools shouldn’t be environments where trans kids feel safe and affirmed is simply unconscionable.

We know that the whole nation and world is watching what happens here. We’ve seen in other states where passage of anti-transgender legislation resulted in waves of public backlash and shame.

We don’t need this in Texas. We have to do better.


José Rodríguez represents Texas Senate District 29, which includes the counties of El Paso, Hudspeth, Culberson, Jeff Davis, and Presidio. He represents both urban and rural constituencies, and more than 350 miles of the Texas-Mexico border. Senator Rodríguez currently serves as the Chairman of the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus, and is a member of the Senate Committees on Natural Resources and Economic Development; Transportation; Veteran Affairs and Border Security; and Agriculture, Water, and Rural Affairs (Vice Chair).

Opinion: State Rep Rodriguez Issues Statement on Senate Bill 6

Austin – Senator José Rodríguez released the following statement regarding Senate Bill 6, which targets vulnerable Texans for discrimination:

S.B. 6 is problematic in a number of ways, from creating legal issues to nullifying local control to targeting, instead of protecting, vulnerable Texans. While it is disturbing that we are being forced to fight what amounts to state-ordered discrimination, we must take this opportunity to educate Texans on the law and on the trans community, which needs our support, not to be vilified or discriminated against.

First, S.B. 6 conflicts with federal civil rights laws because it discriminates on the basis of sex. Both Title VII and Title IX of our federal civil rights laws expressly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex. Further, S.B. 6’s attempt to define sex as a matter of law on the basis of biology is contrary to Supreme Court precedent, from Price Waterhouse to Bauer v. Lynch to Jackson v. Birmingham Bd. of Education.

S.B. 6 conflicts with EEOC and OSHA regulations regarding how employers, including state and local government employers, must treat transgender employees. The Trump administration’s recent withdrawal of guidance regarding DOE’s interpretation of Title IX cannot change the meaning of sex discrimination and does not reverse existing case law. The sex discrimination authorized by S.B. 6 cannot be justified by the possibility that someone may be discomfited by the mere presence of a transgender individual in a public restroom.

More broadly, S.B. 6 conflicts with the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection guarantee. And finally, because S.B. 6 cannot be reconciled with federal civil rights laws or the equal protection guarantee of the U.S. Constitution, it would put school districts, municipalities, and other governmental entities in Texas in an untenable position. Simply put, S.B. 6 exposes school districts and other government entities to litigation and liability.

I understand the gut level reaction some have when they think of a man in a woman’s bathroom. This is not what is happening. Transgender individuals are few in number, and simply want to be able to live in peace. They more often are targeted for violence, ridicule and discrimination, and legislation like this encourages the continued misunderstanding of these vulnerable Texans.

If there are any cases of men pretending to be women to gain access to a woman’s bathroom to commit a crime, they are exceedingly few. In all this sound and fury over the issue, I have yet to see any examples of this type of crime. I have heard of criminal actions that were criminal before, regardless of whether S.B. 6 passed or not.

The more I’ve learned about transgender and gender nonconforming Texans, the more I’ve come to understand that the problem is ignorance. Well-intentioned people might, as I stated initially, have a gut level reaction in which they imagine a burly man, or even a teen male, flippantly claiming to be female to take advantage of the policy of allowing transgender people to use the bathroom appropriate for their gender identity. However, the facts don’t bear this out. To cause this amount of division over something that’s not a real problem points to something deeper.

Once we’ve examined all the facts at hand – the substantial legal issues, the question of criminal activity against transgender people and the absence of criminal activity by them, the economic arguments about why social discrimination is bad for business – the only thing left is the fear, lack of knowledge, and in some cases, hate, that some people have for LGBTQ Texans.

Sadly, this is what we are left with – fear, hate, misunderstanding. I will continue working to educate my colleagues on this vulnerable population and the need to support them, not codify discrimination against them.

I sympathize with those who have not yet discovered compassion for all their fellow Texans, but I will not yield to their fears. I stand with equality, and against S.B. 6.

José Rodríguez represents Texas Senate District 29, which includes the counties of El Paso, Hudspeth, Culberson, Jeff Davis, and Presidio. He represents both urban and rural constituencies, and more than 350 miles of the Texas-Mexico border. Senator Rodríguez currently serves as the Chairman of the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus, and is a member of the Senate Committees on Natural Resources and Economic Development; Transportation; Veteran Affairs and Border Security; and Agriculture, Water, and Rural Affairs (Vice Chair).

With Bathroom Bill, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick plows into “tough fight”

While Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has called a so-called bathroom bill a legislative priority, the issue has largely cooled off on the national stage and opposition to similar legislation in Texas had begun to gain momentum.

Eight months ago, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick stormed the Texas GOP convention in Dallas as a man on a mission.

He had recently picked a fight with Fort Worth Superintendent Kent Scribner over his approval of bathroom guidelines for transgender students, and in a twist of perfect political timing, President Barack Obama had just issued a similar guidance to all public schools in the middle of the convention. Shortly after the convention, Attorney General Ken Paxton punctuated Patrick’s drum-beating with a lawsuit against the Obama administration over the directive.

“He says he’s going to withhold funding if schools do not follow the policy,” Patrick said at the convention. “Well, in Texas, he can keep his 30 pieces of silver. We will not be blackmailed by the president of the United States.”

Standing in front of reporters Thursday, Patrick was still a man on the mission, but the political moment had shifted. In the months prior, a Texas judge had blocked the Obama guidance and the bathroom issue had largely cooled off on the national stage — even contributing to the re-election loss of North Carolina’s governor, by some accounts — and opposition to similar legislation in Texas had begun to gain momentum.

Patrick is now in for a self-admitted “tough fight” in the Texas Legislature, where he faces fierce opposition from the business community and lukewarm support from fellow Republicans, at least outside his Senate.

That reality did not immediately change Thursday, when he joined state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, to roll out the highly anticipated Texas Privacy Act, which would require transgender people to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings and public universities based on “biological sex.” The bill would also pre-empt local nondiscrimination ordinances that allow transgender people to use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Patrick ally and a fellow Houston Republican who chairs the Texas Senate GOP caucus, acknowledged Thursday that it is “going to take some time to talk to the business community, make sure they understand what that bill is” — especially after alarm-sounding by business groups that Patrick allies have criticized as unfounded.

“The beginning of that was obviously” Thursday, Bettencourt said. “Once people can understand what the bill is, certainly the fear of [economic harm] will obviously disappear because it wasn’t real in the first place.” 

Patrick was characteristically combative at Thursday’s news conference, saying he had never seen so much misinformation about a piece of legislation before it was filed. He singled out one recent report that suggested he had struggled to find a senator to carry the bill, revealing that he and Kolkhorst had been working on it since Sept. 1. Kolkhorst, for her part, said some of her staff did not even know she was taking up the cause.

The bill’s supporters are betting big that public opinion will overpower whatever resistance they encounter at the Capitol. Their reference point is polling that Patrick’s political operation commissioned last year, which it says shows there is broad support for making it “illegal for a man to enter a women’s restroom.” They also point to the 2015 demise of Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance, better known as HERO, which featured much of the same message Patrick is now using with the statewide legislation.

“I think what you will see is when it comes to the legislative process, let’s look at where the people are,” said Nicole Hudgens, a policy analyst for Texas Values, a socially conservative group allied with Patrick. “There are so many Texans that are for this policy and this legislation, and I think that’s going to be reflected in the Legislature.” 

Patrick and Kolkhorst launched the effort without any clear support from Gov. Greg Abbott, who involved himself in the HERO debate but has been less vocal about the need for statewide legislation. Speaking with reporters last month, Abbott said the issue was worthy of attention but he was waiting for more information on the bill. Abbott’s office was quiet after Patrick and Kolkhorst unveiled the legislation Thursday.

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, has been even cooler toward Patrick’s push, calling a so-called “bathroom bill” not the “most urgent concern of mine.” That has fueled the perception that the bill is dead on arrival in the lower chamber, which in general has been less receptive to Patrick’s signature proposals than the Senate.

Bettencourt expressed hope that Senate Bill 6 would get a fair hearing in the House. He said the two chambers are “actually much further along at having substantive discussions” before the forthcoming session compared to the last one, which began with a major leadership turnover stemming from the 2014 statewide elections. 

“I think it’s all premature to say what that discussion is going to be because I don’t believe the bill is what it is being portrayed as,” Bettencourt said when asked about the House’s receptiveness to Senate Bill 6. “And once that is obvious, there may be a different reaction.”

In the House, state Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, has been outspoken on the issue. On Thursday, he said he was crafting legislation that would only “prevent any local government from regulating bathrooms,” which would be similar to one component of Senate Bill 6. By solely focusing on local governments, the House bill would avoid the more incendiary debates sparked by a potential statewide mandate, Shaheen suggested. 

“This bathroom issue is just sucking up a bunch of time and resources,” Shaheen said. “I think because my approach is more of a scope-of-government-type of discussion — I avoid the whole bathroom dialogue in general — I think there’ll be a receptiveness to the bill.” 

In any case, the business community has spent months looking to derail any bill related to the issue, warning it could lead to the same turmoil that visited North Carolina when its lawmakers pushed similar legislation. The Texas Association of Business and its allies have been the most vocal, touting a report the group released last month that said such legislation could cost the state between $964 million and $8.5 billion and more than 100,000 jobs. 

Caroline Joiner, executive director for the Texas and the Southeast for TechNet, a technology industry group opposed to the bill, said one of its challenges is convincing “individual legislators and their constituents that this is not hypothetical — we will have real, devastating economic impacts.” And while Joiner, like many others, expects the issue to be better received in the Senate than in the House, she said TechNet has an interest in educating lawmakers from both chambers about the potential economic consequences. 

“I think we absolutely need to be telling that story as aggressively in the House as we are in the Senate,” Joiner said. “Yes, it’s going to be less of a priority for Speaker Straus, but we want to make sure he has the support from his members to oppose it.”

For Democrats, the debate provides an opportunity to capitalize on the growing schism between the increasingly conservative Texas GOP and the more moderate business community. On Thursday, the state Democratic Party quickly branded Kolkhorst’s legislation as an “$8.5 billion bathroom bill,” citing the Texas Association of Business study. 

The report itself has been a source of controversy, with Patrick and his allies denouncing it as misinformation and fear-mongering. Bettencourt said the study “had some holes you could drive a Mack truck through,” while Shaheen said he wants it known that he and several colleagues are “highly disappointed in TAB about they’ve misrepresented the business impact of these types of bills.”

Patrick continued to rail against the report Thursday, suggesting in a radio interview after the bill unveiling that the study’s findings were not uniformly supported by the business community.

“The members of the Texas Association of Business have already said they don’t even believe their own report,” Patrick told Tony Perkins, president of the socially conservative Family Research Council. “That report was based on not any economic data, but just extracting some numbers that some people who I believe are with the TAB who are just against the bill. Period. Just want to try to make their argument, but it’s no real data. It’s ridiculous.” 

A Texas Association of Business official did not return requests for comment for this story.

Read more:

  • There are now 12 Texas cities with a population of more than 100,000 that have some rules or legislation in place to protect residents or city employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity. See how those protections compare.
  • Last month, A Texas judge halted a federal mandate aimed to protect transgender people, finding that the federal health rule violates existing law.

Disclosure: The Texas Association of Business has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Author: PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

Texas Closely Watches Fate of NC’s Divisive “Bathroom Bill”

AUSTIN, Texas – Advocates for the LGBT community in Texas are voicing concerns that North Carolina’s failure to overturn a controversial “bathroom bill” will encourage some Texas lawmakers to pursue a similar measure.

North Carolina legislators met in a special session last week in an unsuccessful attempt to rescind House Bill 2, which requires transgender people to use restrooms that match the sex on their birth certificates.

Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, said the failure in North Carolina could encourage the backers of a similar bill in Texas.

“Most Americans expect people to keep their promises. That Legislature made a deal; they’re not keeping the deal,” she said. “So, before our state folks get real excited about this, they need to sit back and wait to see what the backlash is going to be in North Carolina.”

Shortly after the measure to rescind failed in North Carolina, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick released a statement telling backers of the bathroom bill to “stand firm.” He placed a similar bill on a fast track in the Texas Legislature, which convenes in January, but it’s not yet known if it has enough votes to pass.

North Carolina’s action means that state likely will continue to lose millions of dollars in boycotts of convention, tourism and athletic-event business. Burke said the stakes are even higher for Texas, where one study predicts such a bill could cost the state economy more than $8 billion.

“Discrimination doesn’t sell,” she said. “People in business understand that. People in business understand that their customers come from every corner of America, and every corner of Texas, and that they have to be in a position to do business with all those people.”

Burke said the ACLU and other advocacy groups will be watching the outcome closely, and if Texas passes what she called an “illegal bathroom bill,” they are prepared to go to court to fight it.

Patrick’s statement is online at