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Home | Tag Archives: texas bathroom bill

Tag Archives: texas bathroom bill

After Months of Controversy, Texas Bathroom Bill Dies Quietly

In the end, the controversial bathroom bill went quietly.

For more than a year, Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick led the crusade for a state law to regulate bathroom use for transgender Texans — an initiative that resonated with social conservatives, including many pastors, who backed him up. Patrick for months stood firm in his pursuit for a bathroom bill even while similar campaigns in other states fizzled out.

He was met by loud opposition that only grew with time and eventually proved to be a considerable political force.

Transgender women, men and children from across Texas descended on the Capitol to testify about how the proposal — which would ban local policies that ensured transgender individuals’ right to use public and school restrooms that match their gender identity — could endanger their lives. The business community rallied against the legislation too, giving House Speaker Joe Straus cover as he refused to negotiate with Patrick on bathroom restrictions.

That led to a stalemate over the issue during the regular legislative session that played out in dueling press conferences featuring legislative leaders slamming each other over the issue, threats by Patrick to force lawmakers to return to Austin by holding must-pass bills hostage and last-ditch efforts to attach bathroom restrictions to other pieces of legislation considered in the middle of the night.

Gov. Greg Abbott was eventually forced to call a 30-day special session that revived the bathroom bill. But for all the bathroom-related commotion and cajoling that dominated the regular legislative session, when lawmakers wrapped up the special session on Tuesday, Patrick eulogized the bathroom bill as just one of several proposals that didn’t make it to Abbott’s desk because of Straus.

And in the end, it wasn’t all that hard to see it coming.

Shifting momentum

“We hope that this time, this issue remains settled: Texans don’t want harmful, anti-transgender legislation,” JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president for policy and political affairs at the Human Rights Campaign, said as opponents of the bathroom bill seemed to release a collective sigh of relief when the House abruptly adjourned to end the special session Tuesday evening.

Opponents had been anxiously watching the clock tick down on the 30 days lawmakers were allotted to pass Abbott’s 20-item agenda.

But giving lawmakers a second shot to pass a bathroom bill only seemed to further shift momentum against the legislation as the debate stretched into the summer.

Little had changed for Straus — often a less vocal foil to some of Patrick’s priorities — who seemed to dig in his heels, arguing that the legislation would have dire economic and moral costs for Texas.

With the national debate over North Carolinas bathroom still lingering, he was backed up by top business executives, including the heads of dozens of Fortune 500 companies, who worried that Texas could invite the same economic blows the Tar Heel State faced after passing a similar bill, including cancelled corporate expansions and sports tournaments.

They called Abbott to express their displeasure and launched a flurry of letters warning about the harm that laws deemed discriminatory toward the LGBT community could cause.

The opposition grew to also include school districts, tourism officials, faith leaders and law enforcement officials.

“Everybody realized the issue really wasn’t going to be resolved without everybody being heard,” said Jeff Moseley, CEO of the Texas Association of Business, who was among those who spearheaded the business opposition.

Lost support

With the opposition growing louder outside the Capitol — eventually including major GOP donors and even Abbott’s campaign treasurer — the bathroom bill’s quiet death march inside the pink dome moved forward.

Within a week of returning to Austin for the special session, the Senate slogged through an 11-hour committee hearing and an eight-hour floor debate ending with a vote to advance the revived bathroom bill.

But it was almost immediately bottled up in the House, where Straus refused to refer it to a committee for consideration. Two other proposals that originated in the House were referred to committee but never got a hearing.

Support for the House bill seemed to drop as the special session began. Eighty Republicans had signed on as co-authors during the regular session — proponents of the bill regularly touted that number as they criticized Straus for keeping the bathroom bill from getting a House vote — but in the special session the number of co-authors dropped to 60.

“Some people were listening,” Lou Weaver, transgender programs coordinator for Equality Texas, said of the drop in co-authors. “Whether it was to the trans communities, to our allies, to our advocates, the business community, faith leaders — whatever the case may be, they did switch.”

Meanwhile, House leadership faced little opposition from proponents of the bathroom bill as they quietly worked to keep bathroom restrictions from being tacked on to key education bills that were moving through the chamber by limiting the amendments lawmakers could propose when those bills reached the House floor.

Across the rotunda, rumors that the Senate was planning to attach the bathroom restrictions to education bills proved unfounded.

By last week, the bill supporters were already conceding that Texas wouldn’t pass a bathroom bill. Republican state Rep. Ron Simmons of Carrollton, the legislation’s author, on Monday acknowledged that he had not recently talked about his proposals with the governor.

Abbott’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the bathroom bill’s demise.

According to those familiar with the negotiations, the measure was not even a factor as the House and Senate worked to hash out their differences over what emerged as the final sticking points of the special session: school finance and property tax legislation.

By then, some Capitol insiders had shifted focus to whether a second failed attempt would finally mark the end of the legislative debate.

“That’s the question: Is that the end of the bathroom bill?” Bill Miller, an Austin lobbyist, said.

Fight isn’t over

LGBT advocates and their allies said they’re hopeful there’s been a shift in the debate, explaining that the prolonged fight at the Capitol gave them the opportunity to explain to leaders why proposals like the bathroom bill were discriminatory and dangerous.

But they admit the fight likely isn’t over.

During a late-night press conference on Tuesday, Patrick recounted a one-on-one meeting in which he urged Straus to pass a bathroom bill and “put this issue in the rearview mirror” because it wasn’t going away.

He was echoed earlier in the week by conservative groups that said they would urge the governor to bring lawmakers back for another special session to reconsider the issue.

Abbott has yet to rule out a second special session, but he did acknowledge during a Wednesday morning interview that “there’s no evidence whatsoever” that Straus will be swayed on the issue.

For his part, the speaker has so far only put out a short statement marking the end of the special session. It was short and focused on the House’s work to pass legislation “that was in the best interest of all Texans.” It didn’t mention the bathroom bill.

“The House was thoughtful, respectful and decisive in its solution-oriented approach,” Straus said.

Disclosure: The Texas Association of Business and Equality Texas have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors is available here.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • They were unlikely to sway a committee of Republicans considering bathroom restrictions for transgender Texans, but a transgender 7-year-old and her mother waited for their two minutes. [Full story]
  • Both proponents and opponents of a Texas “bathroom bill” are steeling themselves once again as a special session kicks off in which Gov. Greg Abbott has vowed to add the hot-button issue to the agenda. [Full story]
  • As Texas lawmakers reconvene for a special legislative session, IBM and other major companies are re-upping their opposition to legislation they say would discriminate against transgender children and harm its Texas recruiting efforts. [Full story]

Author:  ALEXA URA – The Texas Tribune

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

Analysis: Texas Republicans Deciding Where to go on Bathrooms

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott have figured out how to make mainstream Republicans a splinter group in their own party. Or maybe it’s the other way around: The party’s traditional establishment has slipped out of the mainstream and is just now coming to realize what a pickle it’s in.

The “bathroom bill” is popular with social conservatives, who are loud and energetic about it, and not with business conservatives, who have been quiet and passive for most of the year. The lieutenant governor is on the side of the social conservatives. Abbott was late to the game, but he joined in with Patrick by resurrecting the issue for consideration during the special session when the business community would have preferred leaving it in the legislative mortuary.

Now that the issue has resurfaced, that conservative old guard is showing a sign or two of life, and the Texas Legislature’s special session offers voters some foreshadowing of the Republican cage match coming in the party’s 2018 primaries.

The prompt, you might remember, was a directive from the Obama administration’s Department of Education on how public schools might handle restroom and locker room access for transgender students. That guidance has since been rescinded by the Trump administration, but Patrick and other advocates have forged ahead anyway, trying to override school districts and other local governments with a state policy requiring people to use the facilities designated for their “biological sex.”

It’s been politically rewarding in spite of their lack of success in making it the law of the land. Patrick latched onto a powerful issue — for Republican primaries, at the very least. With the notably persistent exception of House Speaker Joe Straus, that issue set the state’s conservative business establishment on its heels, sticking Republicans in the Legislature with a dilemma: Vote for your business supporters or for your socially conservative constituents.

Straus bugled for help early in the year, saying the state needed to protect its economic successes. “If you are concerned — I know many of you are — now is the time to speak up,” Straus told members of the Texas Association of Business (TAB), which had taken a position against the bill.

For whatever reason, their backing was more private than public during the regular legislative session.

Between January and June, while Patrick was trying to gain enough support to get his pet through the Senate and also Straus’ House, business appeared to be asleep at the switch. A group of top execs from Amazon, Apple, Celanese Corp., Cisco, Dell Technologies, Facebook, Gearbox Software, Google, GSD&M, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, IBM, Microsoft Corp., Salesforce and Silicon Labs eventually sent a letter to state leaders objecting to what they saw as discriminatory legislation.

It landed on the last weekend of the session, when the bill’s demise was already all but certain — more a punctuation mark than a game-changer. But it was a sign of opposition to come.

Patrick couldn’t get his version of that legislation out of the regular session, and forced a second round by blocking consideration of must-pass “sunset” bills needed to keep five state agencies in operation.

Now, the business establishment is making its presence known in a way it failed to do during the regular session earlier this year. TAB last week brought a gaggle of business leaders to the south steps of the Capitol — the regular gathering place for protests — to talk about their opposition to the bill and their assertion that it would cloud the state’s business climate. On Tuesday, several big-city law enforcement leaders — presumably the people who’d be policing the potties if the legislation passes — spoke against it from that same location.

TAB and others have peppered lawmakers with letters from regional business leaders who oppose the legislation, including some notable conservatives who’ve backed the same state officials promoting it.

A sprinkling of prominent Republicans have decided to speak out against the “bathroom bill,” too, including Denton County Judge Mary Horn and Michael Williams, a former Texas education commissioner and railroad commissioner.

“Spending time on this during a legislative session is time wasted trying to solve a problem that does not exist,” Horn wrote in a public letter to Abbott, Patrick and Straus. “There are already laws on the books protecting individuals from all criminal acts. Focusing attention on this issue wastes time, money, and is bad for Texas.”

Williams was more informal about it. “35 years ago when I ‘came out’ as a Republican it never crossed my mind my party would some day worry about what bathrooms people used,” he wrote in a Sunday afternoon tweet.

Those voices were muted earlier in the year and might provide some cover for lawmakers opposed to the “bathroom bill” now. But this is all prelude to the March primaries, when Republican voters will get a chance to say what side they’re on — and to identify the GOP’s real mainstream.

Facebook, Google, GSD&M, Microsoft, the Texas Association of Business and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. Find a complete list of donors and sponsors here

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • They were unlikely to sway a committee of Republicans considering bathroom restrictions for transgender Texans, but a transgender 7-year-old and her mother waited for their two minutes. [link]
  • Some of the 20 topics Gov. Greg Abbott is asking the Texas Legislature to consider during a special session have been his priorities since his State of the State Address in January. On some of the other topics, though, he’s been relatively quiet. [link]

Author:  ROSS RAMSEY – The Texas Tribune

Boycotts Over ‘Religious Freedom’ Bills Could Cost Texas Billions

AUSTIN – The predicted economic backlash against Texas has begun in protest of the state’s new laws that allow discrimination in the name of religious freedom.

Last week, California banned official travel to Texas by state employees in response to a Texas state law allowing foster care and adoption agencies to disqualify LGBTQ families for “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Dozens of other states and groups say they’re also considering economic boycotts.

Dan Quinn, communications director with the Texas Freedom Network, said the sanctions should come as no surprise to the lawmakers who advocate for “religious freedom” bills that discriminate.

“It’s not like folks weren’t warning that this would happen before legislators gave this special protection to adoption and foster care agencies that discriminate,” Quinn said. “But now they want to double down on all this in the special session with this ridiculous bathroom bill.”

He is referring to a controversial bill coming up in July to regulate which restrooms transgender people can use.

In the regular session, lawmakers passed an anti-sanctuary cities bill allowing police to ask people in custody about their immigration status. Hispanic groups claim it will lead to racial profiling.

Quinn said he believes conservative Republicans are pushing such measures as a form of “political theater,” which he warned could have an unhappy ending for Texas.

“What they are proposing here solves no problem; there is no problem. So, the only reason they’re doing this is for political reasons,” he said. “What we’re really seeing here is this slow motion economic train wreck, and the special session could turn that into a full-on disaster.”

Quinn said a study by business leaders found an organized boycott could cost Texas more than $8 billion and 35,000 jobs. The state also could lose business from conventions, tourism and sports leagues like the NCAA, the NBA and the NFL.

“Once you get beyond the moral problem with it, you have the economic problem with it,” Quinn said. “At that point, you do begin to wonder, ‘Will this register with them? Do they see this as a big problem with leaders?'”

Other states – including Alabama, North Carolina and South Dakota – have seen economic hits from boycotts after passing similar legislation.

Author: Mark Richardson – Texas News Service

Dan Patrick Unconvinced by House Action on Bathrooms, Property Taxes

After threatening to force a special session of the Texas Legislature unless lawmakers approve a “bathroom bill” and property tax legislation, Lt. Gov Dan Patrick on Monday appeared to be unconvinced by the House’s actions on the two issues.

“I share Governor Abbott’s concern about the lack of a rollback provision in Senate Bill 669 on property taxes,” Patrick said in a statement about a property tax measure the House passed Saturday that did not include a rollback provision for local tax increases. Patrick, like Gov. Greg Abbott, had indicated he wanted the House to approve Senate Bill 2, to require local governments that want to raise property taxes by 5 percent or more to get voter approval, but that proposal stalled in the House.

On the bathroom front, Patrick said he had concerns about the “ambiguous language” the House approved as an amendment Sunday to address bathroom use by transgender Texans in public schools because it “doesn’t appear to do much.” The measure the House approved would require schools to provide single-stall restrooms, locker rooms and changing facilities to students who don’t want to use facilities designated by “biological sex.”

“There is still time for the House and Senate to address these concerns — which are both priorities for Texas voters — in a meaningful way,” Patrick said.

Throughout the session, Patrick and Straus have been at odds over what should be the Legislature’s priorities. The lieutenant governor’s statement comes after a weekend of House votes on the issues that have emerged as sticking points in his efforts to push for Abbott to call a special session. The regular legislative session ends May 29.

Last week, Patrick had said he was prepared to go to a special session if the House did not act on the property tax issue and some version of a “bathroom bill.”

Abbott said both pieces of legislation were also priorities for him, though he has not publicly threatened a special session over the two items.

But following the House’s vote on the bathroom amendment, House Speaker Joe Straus said in a statement that the governor made clear “he would demand action on this in a special session.”

Patrick had pushed for the House to move on Senate Bill 6, the measure his chamber passed out in March, to regulate bathroom use for transgender Texans or to amend a bill with language from a related House measure. Both measures stalled in the House, which on Sunday approved a more narrow proposal.

Over the past few months, Straus was reticent to allow a vote on the Senate’s bathroom proposal, saying the issue felt “manufactured and unnecessary.”

And ahead of the House’s vote on the property tax measure — which was set on the House calendar ahead of Patrick’s special session ultimatum — Straus argued that the House had addressed the issue of offering taxpayers relief by focusing on a measure intended to reform the state’s complex school finance system.

A spokesman for Straus did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Patrick’s statement.

Read related coverage:

Author:  ALEXA URA – 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.

Analysis: In Bathroom Bill, Politics Disguised as Policy

As policy, the proposed regulations for transgender Texan’s restroom choices have some gaping holes in it. The politics, however, are easy to understand.

The proposed bathroom bill percolating in the Texas Legislature doesn’t do what its supporters say it is supposed to do.

Here’s the caption — the legal description at the top of Senate Bill 6: “relating to regulations and policies for entering or using a bathroom or changing facility; authorizing a civil penalty; increasing criminal penalties.”

That’s pretty straightforward, because it has to be, but the rhetoric around the bill is more florid — and misleading.

It purports to protect Texans answering nature’s calls from people of the opposite sex. It has a logical flaw, however, because it doesn’t protect them in most of the public restrooms in the state — only the public restrooms in public buildings.

That makes no sense if the state wants to protect people from a clear-and-present danger or an existential threat. Imagine if Texas protected foster children on state property and nowhere else.

If allowing transgender people to choose which stalls to use was dangerous, the state would protect everyone everywhere — in publicly owned and privately owned buildings alike.

SB 6, as currently written, doesn’t do that — which is how you can tell that that’s not its real purpose. What it would do is highlight disdain for transgender people in a public way that might be rewarded by conservative voters at the polls in 2018 and beyond.

The bathroom bill has a little-dog-with-a-big-bark quality in common with legislation that purports to end payroll deductions for union and non-union public employees. Proponents make it sound like lawmakers are going to stop all of the unions from weaseling into government payrolls to collect dues. Whether or not you agree with the concept, that would be an understandable policy position. But that’s not what this bill does. The legislation would still allow police, fire and other first responders to pay their union dues with automatic payroll deductions; it would just cut out the other government employees — the ones the sponsors don’t like.

The bathroom bill has a big bark, too. The pitch is that restrooms — women’s restrooms in particular — would be made more dangerous if transgender persons who identify as female were allowed to pee there.

Here’s a bombshell: Many of them pee there now.

So as policy, this might not make sense. The politics are easier to understand.

The proposal would work better in a Republican primary than it would work on the streets. Three-quarters of Republicans believe Texans should use the restrooms that match the gender on their birth certificates instead of their gender identity, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. Among Democrats, 55 percent said Texans should use gender identity as their guide.

Slightly more than half of the non-Tea-Party Republicans in the survey said passing the legislation is important to them, while 55 percent of Tea Party identifiers and 55 percent of Democrats said it was “not very” or “not at all” important.

If that’s all there was to it, the state’s 181 senators and representatives wouldn’t be so tangled up in knots about it. Ours is a Republican Legislature. The lieutenant governor, a populist conservative, has made this a banner issue. Republican voters are for it.

Those are the ingredients of a Republican primary purity test, where a ‘no’ vote on restroom regs could doom an incumbent lawmaker.txtribSB6

Ordinarily, that would be the end of it. But some of the same thinking that keeps privately-owned buildings out of this kind of legislation — lawmakers’ reflexive reluctance to regulate the private sector — has legislators frozen.

Lots of businesses don’t like the bathroom bill. The Texas Association of Business is against it (the lieutenant governor begs to differ). More than 1,200 companies have signed a pledge circulated by a group called Texas Competes to say they oppose laws and policies that discriminate against LGBTQ Texans.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott hasn’t taken a position for or against the legislation. He chided the NFL — via tweet — for trying to sway public sentiment on this, but he has also said that there is a lot of studying to do before deciding this one. That’s what a governor does when he wants to slow down and think about it.

House Speaker Joe Straus — in a favor to the nervous members of the House — has said publicly that it would be helpful to legislators to know the governor’s position before they have to vote. That not only slows things down, but puts the governor in the position — whether he likes it or not — to call the dance.

More columns from Ross Ramsey:

  • The safety net for Texas children has some big holes in it, and most lawmakers want that fixed. But it’s going to cost money — a harder sell in a conservative Texas Legislature.
  • State officials have done a lot of work to stop sex trafficking in Texas, but the results revealed by the Tribune’s Sold Out series are demoralizing. The state’s own safety net is part of the pipeline for victims of trafficking.
  • Lawmakers want to stop deducting dues for union and non-union employee associations from state paychecks — but only for the employees they disagree with.

Disclosure: The Texas Association of Business and 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.

Author:  ROSS RAMSEY –  The Texas Tribune

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