The fight over transgender bathroom policies took center stage Thursday, hours after an unusual midnight meeting of the Texas Senate allowed Gov. Greg Abbott to expand the special legislative session’s agenda to include a host of conservative priorities.
The Texas Association of Business, a leading foe of efforts to restrict transgender-friendly bathroom policies, announced a $1 million radio ad campaign against legislation its leaders called discriminatory and an unnecessary distraction from real problems Texans face.
Leaders of the national Episcopal Church also released a letter urging House Speaker Joe Straus to continue to resist “efforts to enshrine discrimination against our transgender sisters and brothers into Texas law.”
On the opposing side, Texas Values issued a call asking supporters to attend Friday morning’s public hearing on two similar bills to restrict multistall bathrooms, locker rooms and changing rooms in public schools and government buildings to the sex listed on a person’s birth certificate.
“The radical left and LGBT lobby will certainly be out in full force again,” said an alert emailed to supporters of Texas Values, a Christian public policy advocacy group based in Austin. “We must let our state leaders hear loudly from Texans across that state that we support common-sense legislation to keep men out of women’s intimate facilities.”
Friday’s 9 a.m. Capitol hearing will be the public’s first chance during the 30-day special session to address an issue that has gained national attention. Registration to testify before the Senate State Affairs Committee will begin at 8 a.m. and close at noon.
Two regular-session hearings on transgender bathroom policies had lasted until shortly before 5 a.m. and featured hours of emotional testimony from witnesses, the majority of whom opposed bills that sought to block transgender people from using private facilities that match their gender identification.
Other hot-button issues
Separate committee hearings also will be held Friday on other hot-button issues, including abortion regulations at 8 a.m. before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and an effort to provide tax credits for contributions to a scholarship fund to help public and private students with disabilities pay for educational expenses, which will be heard by the Senate Education Committee at 10 a.m.
The rapid-fire schedule of committee hearings will continue Saturday and Sunday as Senate Republican leaders strive to meet Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s goal of passing legislation requested by Abbott by the middle of next week.
The House, meantime, has adopted a slower pace, largely acting to pass minor resolutions while members await a floor vote on a bill, approved Wednesday in committee, to keep five state agencies operating — identified by Abbott as the first order of special session business. The Senate gave final approval to similar bills early Thursday.
Friday’s Senate hearings were made possible after Republican senators voted once again to circumvent Democratic efforts to delay proceedings by “tagging” bills, a procedure that blocks committee action for 48 hours.
“Is this to prevent us from having sufficient time to study these bills?” Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, asked during the Senate’s post-midnight session Thursday. “Some of them were filed just a few minutes ago. I haven’t seen them, the public hasn’t seen them.”
Senators, however, voted along party lines to cancel the tags — the same result as Tuesday, when a party-line vote suspended the tagging rule for the first time in more than 30 years.
Meanwhile, the lines of battle continued to sharpen over the transgender bathroom bills by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, whose legislation also would overturn city or county regulations that require transgender-friendly bathrooms and block policies that would allow transgender school athletes to participate in sports events based on their gender identity.
Supporters say the legislation is needed to protect privacy, and Patrick has long made passage a priority, arguing that safety, particularly for women and girls, is at stake.
The Texas Association of Business, however, said the bills would put the Texas economy at risk of boycotts and make it harder for companies to attract talent, jeopardizing corporate growth and relocation in the state.
“The bathroom bill distracts from the real challenges we face and would result in terrible economic consequences — on talent, on tourism, on investment, on growth and on small businesses,” said Jeff Mosley, head of the state’s largest business group.
Leaders of the U.S. Episcopal Church also renewed their call, first articulated in February, to oppose the bills.
“As clergy who remember racist Jim Crow bathroom laws that purported to protect white people, we know the kind of hatred and fear that discriminatory laws can perpetuate,” said the letter by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the church’s House of Deputies.