Texas House Speaker Joe Straus said that Senate Bill 6, the transgender bathroom bill, is a “contrived” answer to a “manufactured” problem that could, for no good purpose, undermine Texas’ extraordinary success as a magnet for job creators. The speaker said he sees “no fervor” in the House to bring the legislation to the floor.
“I‘m not saying that it wouldn’t pass if it were pushed on them, the members,” Straus, a Republican, said in a live-streamed interview Friday with Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas.
Henson noted that the bill, championed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, isn’t a priority for Straus.
“I’ve gone further than saying it’s not a priority,” Straus said. “I oppose it.”
SB 6 is the most obvious but hardly the only point of contention between Straus and fellow Republican Patrick, who presides over the Texas Senate. They differ on the size of the budget and how to balance it. Straus prefers dipping into the state’s $10 billion rainy day fund; Patrick does not. Senate leaders want to delay a $2.5 billion payment for transportation funding, in what Straus has described as budget chicanery worthy of Enron, the Houston company that collapsed amid an enormous accounting scandal.
Patrick strongly backs SB 3, which advocates portray as school choice legislation but opponents liken to vouchers to subsidize private school tuition. The bill cleared the Senate Education Committee on Thursday. Straus said House leaders probably would give the bill the courtesy of a hearing, but that it might not make it any farther.
The Senate passed SB 6, 21-10, last week and, in an interview with Dallas radio station KLIF, Patrick said, “I think the speaker is out of touch with the voters” in opposing the bill.
“This is an issue that people, supporters, constituents, voters want,” Patrick said.
The bill would prohibit transgender people from using the bathroom that conforms with their gender identity in public schools and universities and in government buildings. SB 6 also would overturn city and county regulations requiring transgender-friendly bathrooms.
“I come from San Antonio, and my constituents aren’t talking about it, certainly not in a positive way,” Straus said. “My community is the one that, a year from now, is going to have the Final Four, the NCAA basketball championships, and we’re very sensitive to sending the wrong signals to those we want to attract.”
“We’ve also done such a great job in Texas over the last decade or more of building this reputation as being outstanding business magnets, job creators are flocking here,” Straus said. “Our population has grown half a million a year. Tremendous growth. Job-creating Mecca. Welcoming state.”
Straus said enacting SB 6 would be buying trouble for no good reason, and with the experience of North Carolina, which passed legislation regulating public bathroom use for transgender individuals, offering a clear warning not to go there.
“To walk into a situation, with our eyes wide open, that North Carolina led on, and to be the first state after them would, I think, be a tremendous mistake,” Straus said. “It’s not just my opinion. It’s the opinion of thousands of businesses, who are the job creators.”
“Politicians don’t create those jobs but we can sure make some boo-boos that lead to problems in job creation and in our economy, and I don’t want to be a party to that,” Straus said.
Straus, who has served as House speaker since 2009, said the issue came out of nowhere and for no apparent good reason.
“I never even heard of it until a year or two ago,” Straus said. “I don’t even know how it came up, but to get this much attention in a legislative session is astounding to me.”
Henson noted that the legislation seemed to have been a response to an Obama administration directive requiring schools to accommodate transgender students in their bathrooms, but, Straus noted, “The Obama administration, I believe, is not there any more, and the Trump administration has reversed whatever they did, so we’ll see where it goes, but count me as a `no.’”
“If we’ve gotten to the point as a civilization and a society that our politicians have to pass bills about bathroom stuff, we’ve gotten really out of control,” Straus said. “There are laws on the books about behavior in bathrooms or criminal actions in a bathroom or anywhere else. It seems a little manufactured to me and unnecessary.”
The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters, conducted Feb. 3-10 by the Texas Politics Project, found that 54 percent of Texans believe that transgender individuals should use the public restroom of their birth gender, and 31 percent think they should use the bathroom that fits their current gender identity, with a 2.83-point margin of error. But 51 percent of Texans also didn’t think it is important that the Legislature deal with the matter. Thirty-nine percent thought it was important.