Updated at 5 a.m.
A Texas Senate committee approved the transgender bathroom bill at 4:50 a.m. Wednesday, almost 21 hours after the start of a public hearing that drew hundreds, most of them in opposition.
The 8-1 vote by the State Affairs Committee — with only Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, opposed — sent Senate Bill 6 to the full Senate, where a vote is likely to be taken next week.
During the hearing, 253 witnesses spoke against SB 6 – many of them transgender Texans or parents of a transgender child — while 29 urged the committee to support the measure, according to a count by the American-Statesman.
More than 430 people had registered to testify on the bill, but as the hours passed, more and more left the Capitol before speaking. (A 2½-hour recess, caused by the Senate session that started at noon, contributed to the length of the hearing.)
“I probably took 20 pages of notes,” said the bill’s author, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, who indicated that she will consider making changes to SB 6.
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Supporters said Senate Bill 6 was needed to keep biological men out of private spaces used by women, to deny sexual predators an excuse for entering a woman’s restroom, and to protect a sense of safety and modesty in bathrooms, locker rooms and dressing rooms.
Opponents told the Senate State Affairs Committee that SB 6 needlessly demonizes vulnerable transgender people to solve a nonexistent problem, makes Texas appear bigoted and jeopardizes the state’s economy by inviting boycotts and making it harder for businesses to attract talented workers.
With more than 430 people signed up to speak — enough for well over 14 hours of testimony at two minutes per witness — discussions were expected to last well into the night.
But it quickly became apparent, shortly after the hearing began at 8 a.m., that the committee will approve the bill, perhaps in time for a Senate floor vote next week.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has already offered assurances that SB 6 will pass the Senate, sending it to a more uncertain welcome in the House — which Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, underscored in a conversation with reporters.
“Clearly, I’m not a fan of the bill that they are discussing in the Senate committee today, but I’m focused 100 percent on the House’s priorities,” Straus said. “They have their agenda, we have ours, and we’ll worry about our agenda and making progress on some issues that I believe are important to every Texan.”
The hearing began with state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, explaining that she intended her bill to protect privacy and codify “what has been accepted practice in Texas and elsewhere for decades.”
SB 6 also tries to “strike a balance for all children,” she said. “One class should not get super-protection over another.”
State Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, questioned whether SB 6 was constitutional. “We have a bill here that is clearly discriminating based on gender,” he said.
SB 6 would prohibit transgender-friendly bathroom, locker room and changing room policies in public schools, universities and in government buildings. It also would overturn city and county requirements for transgender bathrooms and prohibit cities and counties from withholding contracts based on a company’s bathroom policy.
Violators who allow people to use the bathroom of their gender identity, not the sex listed on their birth certificate, could be fined $1,000 to $1,500 for the first offense, rising to $10,000 to $10,500 for subsequent violations.
A new version of the bill submitted to the committee Tuesday no longer included enhanced penalties for assaults committed in a bathroom or changing room.
Kolkhorst said she removed that section after several victims of sexual assault told her that such attacks are heinous no matter where they occur. “This has been quite a journey for me, in many ways a faith journey,” she said.
Invited witnesses included Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian organization based in Washington, D.C., who said SB 6 would close a loophole that could give men the ability to enter women’s bathrooms and locker rooms.
“The threat comes from those who would exploit the situation, by those who would pose as transgender” to act as a voyeur or commit sexual assault, Perkins said.
State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said friends “who have been molested or worse” have expressed similar fears.
“I respect the rights transgender students to have their own personal needs met. But speaking as a woman, I sure do expect my right to privacy,” Nelson said.
Shiloh Satterfield, 10, told the committee that she found the idea of biological males in the girls restroom “scary, awkward and very, very weird” when the Dripping Springs school district made accommodations for a transgender student.
“I felt very uncomfortable knowing that a boy can come into the restroom with me. A restroom is a private place, and I’d like to keep it that way,” she said.
The committee also heard from Marilyn Morrison, a transgender third-grader from the Dallas area who has been bullied at school and said it would be embarrassing to have to use the boys bathroom. “This bill is horrifying to me and all my other trans friends,” she said.
Dr. Colt Keo-Meier, a clinical psychologist who treats transgender people and is a transgender man, feared the impact of SB 6 on the estimated 125,000 transgender people in Texas. Studies have found that 40 percent of transgender people have attempted suicide, and the biggest predictor of suicide is a feeling of not belonging, he said.
SB 6 tells transgender people they don’t belong, he said: “This bill is killing my patients.”