Over loud boos from a dozen protesters outside the state Senate chamber, two Republican leaders unveiled legislation Thursday that would crack down on local laws and school policies requiring bathroom accommodations for transgender Texans.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said Senate Bill 6 would “protect businesses from government interference” by overturning local ordinances that allow transgender people to use the bathroom that conforms with their gender identity. Each business would be free to form its own policies, he said.
The bill also would protect privacy and promote safety by requiring public schools and universities, as well as government buildings, to designate bathrooms for use by people “according to their biological sex,” said the bill’s author, state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham. Schools would be free to make accommodations, including single-occupancy bathrooms and locker rooms, for transgender students, she said.
“We know it’s going to be a tough fight,” Patrick said. “The forces of fear and misinformation will pull out all the stops, both in Texas and nationally, but we know we are on the right side of the issue, we are on the right side of history.”
Critics called the bill discriminatory and predicted that if it were to pass, Texas would experience boycotts and backlashes from businesses, sports leagues, entertainers and travelers comparable to what happened to North Carolina when lawmakers there passed similar legislation last year.
“This bill isn’t about providing safety or privacy. It’s an attempt to foment divisiveness, stigmatize vulnerable students and distract us from what really needs our attention — more resources for our schools and educators,” said Louis Malfaro, president of the Texas branch of the American Federation of Teachers.
Chuck Smith with Equality Texas called the bill misguided.
“If we’re seriously interested in protecting people and trying to stop predatory behavior, then the target of the legislation should be predators. The target should not be transgender people because transgender people are more likely to be the victims of crime, not the perpetrators,” Smith said.
Patrick, who presides over the Senate, has said action was required to ensure that sexual predators don’t use transgender bathroom laws as a pretext for entering women’s bathrooms.
On Thursday, he and Kolkhorst called the bill a common-sense public safety measure that also would create harsher penalties for crimes committed in public bathrooms, locker rooms or changing facilities.
“The right of every Texan will be protected when they find themselves in the most intimate private setting,” Kolkhorst said.
Enforcement wouldn’t require “bathroom police,” Kolkhorst added.
The bill would allow citizens to file an attorney general complaint if a school or government enforced a prohibited transgender bathroom policy that wasn’t changed within three days. Civil penalties would be $1,000 to $1,500 for a first violation, rising to $10,000 to $10,500 for each additional day of violation.
The bill’s prospects are uncertain in the legislative session that begins Tuesday.
Particularly with Patrick’s strong support, passage can be expected in the Senate, where Republicans outnumber Democrats 20-11 (support from 19 senators is required to have a vote on most bills) and where the GOP caucus has grown far more conservative in recent years.
The House could prove to be a different matter. House Speaker Joe Straus has indicated that his priorities lie elsewhere, particularly addressing problems with Child Protective Services, improving the mental health system and reforming school finance to reduce the property tax burden on so-called property wealthy districts like Austin.
Strong opposition from the Texas Association of Business — joined by such large companies as Apple, IBM and Intel — also undercuts support from a source that Republicans typically rely upon.
The business group released a study last month warning that legislation like the transgender bathroom bill could cost the state’s economy up to $8.5 billion a year and threaten 185,000 jobs. Passage would bring boycotts affecting the travel and tourism industry; discourage businesses from relocating or expanding in the state; and make it difficult to recruit and retain talented workers to Texas, the study said.
Patrick dismissed what he called “predictions of economic doom,” saying states with liberal transgender policies are at the bottom of the economic ladder, while states like North Carolina can boast of robust economies.
“You can mark today as the day of Texans drawing a line in the sand and saying no,” Patrick said. “The privacy and safety of Texans is our first priority, not political correctness.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton praised the bill, saying it was made possible by last year’s court victory that blocked an Obama administration directive for transgender-friendly bathrooms and locker rooms in public schools.
“States are now free to enact legislation of their choosing to protect privacy. Texans should feel safe and secure when they enter any intimate facility,” Paxton said.
What they’re saying
• “This bill is really about political grandstanding and solves no real problem. It’s hard to imagine something more crass and cruel than the state’s highest elected officials using fear-mongering to bully vulnerable kids and adults who simply want to use the restroom.” — Kathy Miller, Texas Freedom Network president
• “This issue is not about discrimination — it’s about public safety, protecting businesses and common sense.” – Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick
• “It’s unnecessary, discriminatory and inconsistent with the constitutional value of equal protection for all. And that’s to say nothing of the havoc it will wreak on the Texas economy.” — Rebecca Robertson, ACLU of Texas’ legal and policy director
• “Since some local governments and school boards in Texas continue to push for allowing boys and men into girls bathrooms, we need a state law to have basic, consistent and transparent standards on this important issue across the state.” — Nicole Hudgens, Texas Values Action policy analyst
• “Texas cannot afford discrimination. It’s bad for business, bad for Texans and just downright wrong.” — Crystal Perkins, Texas Democratic Party executive director