Determining which bathrooms transgender Texans can legally use continues to roil the Legislature as the session enters its crucial final days.
Already the subject of two all-night hearings, passionate protests and numerous news conferences, the transgender bathroom issue made a conspicuous appearance at 1:15 a.m. Wednesday, emphatically capping a 13-hour day in the Texas Senate.
Seeking to ban transgender-friendly restrooms in all local government buildings, a Republican amendment was proposed for a safety-net bill meant to rescue locally important legislation from oblivion before the session ends Monday.
“I looked for days for some vehicle to put this amendment on,” said Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, author of the amendment.
The ban on transgender bathrooms was added as the 48th and final amendment to House Bill 4180 on a largely party-line vote.
It proved to be a short-lived victory for Senate Republicans, who have thus far been thwarted in their efforts to ban bathroom policies that let transgender people choose the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity rather than their biological sex as noted on a birth certificate.
The House author of HB 4180, quickly declared the amendment, and the entire bill, dead on arrival when it returns to the House.
“They just wasted hours on a dead bill,” said Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston.
Coleman told the American-Statesman that he will kill the bill by declining to act when it returns from the Senate — something that is within his power as the bill’s author.
That result shouldn’t come as a surprise to senators, Coleman said, because he did the same thing toward the end of the 2015 session when Republicans amended a similar bill to try to keep gay marriage illegal no matter how the U.S. Supreme Court ruled.
“The joke’s on them,” he said. “This bill is never going to be moved by me, on this side.”
In fact, Coleman said, he made sure HB 4180 contained no issues he cared about in case Republicans didn’t learn their lesson last session.
“I have nothing in that bill that I need or want. Nothing. Zero. I am not invested in that bill at all,” he said.
Kolkhorst’s amendment would have required multiple-occupancy restrooms in city and county government buildings to be limited to “persons of the same biological sex” as stated on their birth certificates.
Kolkhorst also was the author of Senate Bill 6, a further-reaching measure that sought to ban transgender-friendly bathroom policies in universities and public schools as well as government buildings. Because her Wednesday morning amendment was added to a bill on local government, it couldn’t include schools or universities.
In another development, a key senator said he will seek to rework a House-passed version that requires public schools to limit multiple-use bathrooms and locker rooms to each student’s biological sex.
Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, said he believed the amendment, added to his school safety bill after an hours-long fight Sunday, “just doesn’t do anything.”
“I’d like to reset it to the way it was before, where the schools took care of the rare cases they had, and they accommodated those students and didn’t necessarily interfere with the privacy of all the other students,” he said. “We can either set a rule for the whole state or we can fight this over and over again in court, with all the division within the communities.”
Taylor said he will ask the Senate to reject the House transgender bathroom amendment to Senate Bill 2078, leading to a conference committee, with five senators and five representatives, to find a compromise that can pass both chambers.
“I think we’re talking about minor wording fixes. I’m not talking about redoing the whole thing,” Taylor said.
Taylor said he didn’t believe the conference committee would try to insert transgender bathroom limits that are closer to SB 6, the version strongly favored by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
Patrick has criticized the House amendment as ambiguous and ineffective, saying he wanted the House and Senate to address bathroom privacy and safety “in a meaningful way.”
But Taylor said he expected his bill to remain focused on schools.
“This is all about schools to me,” he said. “After the conference committee, it’s brought back to each chamber for up and down votes, so I think you’ll see it stay within schools.”