Joe Straus, Dan Patrick snipe on bathroom bill, special session


Highlights

House Speaker Joe Straus said the House had gone as far as it would go on a bathroom bill.

Straus’ firm stand set the stage for a showdown with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick for Gov. Greg Abbott to resolve.

Speaker Joe Straus said the House will budge no further on transgender bathroom legislation and that the Senate can take the measure the House passed Sunday, which Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick did not feel went far enough, or leave it.

“The House approved language last Sunday night that required schools to make private accommodations for students who want them,” Straus said Friday at a brief press conference after the House adjourned for the day. “It gave local educators room to handle these issues.”

“For many of us, and especially for me, this was a compromise. As far as I’m concerned, it will go no further,” Straus said. “It is the right thing to protect our economy from billions of dollars in losses and, more importantly, to protect the safety of some very vulnerable Texans.”

COMMENTARY: Is the Patrick-Straus feud irreconcilable? 

Patrick delivered his response later Friday, telling reporters that Straus was misusing his power by thwarting a policy wanted by Republicans and most Texans — all but guaranteeing a special session after the regular session ends Monday.

“Using the language of left-wing Democrats who oppose this legislation, whose economic arguments have been disproven again and again, he is simply trying to take the ball and go home,” Patrick said. “He said he has compromised enough, but in fact he has not compromised at all.”

A spokesman for Gov. Greg Abbott called on lawmakers to do what they can to avoid a special session.

“Despite tensions, the session is not yet over. The taxpayers deserve to have the Legislature finish their work on time,” spokesman John Wittman said. “Only the governor can determine when or if there is a special session and, if so, what issues are addressed.”

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Differences between the Republican leaders of both houses of the Legislature have simmered all year before blowing up in recent days over the issue of transgender bathrooms and, to a lesser extent, proposals to change the state’s property tax system.

Patrick, who has threatened to force a special session if bathrooms and property taxes were not addressed, said Friday night that “ironically” it was Straus who made an extra session necessary when the House failed to pass legislation to continue the Texas Medical Board.

“If that bill doesn’t pass, we won’t have any licensed doctors in the state after September,” Patrick said.

When Abbott calls an extra session to take care of the doctors, Patrick said he will push hard to have the governor add property tax relief and a crackdown on transgender-friendly bathrooms to the list of items that can be considered by lawmakers.

“Thanks to Joe Straus, we’re going to have a special session that he created,” Patrick said.

A House leader, speaking privately, dismissed Patrick’s claims, saying language extending the medical board has been added to two bills that have been approved by parliamentarians.

The showdown between two of the state’s most powerful Republicans came after the House amended a school safety bill to require public schools and open-enrollment charter schools to provide transgender students with single-occupancy restrooms or changing rooms.

With debate raging over whether the amendment barred transgender students from using the bathroom of their gender identity, Patrick called the House amendment ambiguous and ineffective.

On Wednesday, the Senate voted to seek a conference committee to work out compromise language on the amendment the House added to Senate Bill 2078.

Straus said Friday that the House will not appoint conferees to meet with the Senate on SB 2078, saying Patrick could accept the House version as is.

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At a bill signing Friday, Abbott said he was hopeful of a resolution of this issue, and also on property tax reform, on Saturday, though he mistakenly said a conference committee already was set for both issues. At another bill signing Thursday, the governor said, “the main thing I want to see is the House and Senate coming together” on the bathroom legislation.

“This is going to require compromise efforts by both sides, but we must see especially students in schools having privacy, safety and security maintained, but also we would want to do all we can to help women have privacy, safety and security to the fullest extent possible,” said Abbott.

Straus said he does not believe a special session is needed if the Legislature approves must-pass legislation, including the budget, which is expected to be approved by both houses on Saturday.

Patrick has argued that letting transgender people use bathrooms, locker rooms and changing rooms that conform to their gender identity is a violation of “common sense, common decency and public safety.”

Business groups joined civil rights and LGBT rights organizations in condemning the effort, saying it would put an already vulnerable population at risk of further bullying and abuse while jeopardizing the state’s economy with boycotts.



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