After a second day of sharp disagreement and impassioned debate, the Texas Senate gave final approval to the transgender bathroom bill Wednesday, drawing condemnation and praise from across the nation as Senate Bill 6 next heads to the House.
Attention now focuses on House Speaker Joe Straus, who has said he is no fan of SB 6 — a detail that was on Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s mind hours before Wednesday’s vote.
In a morning radio interview, Patrick — the bill’s leading advocate — suggested that fellow Republican Straus was playing with political fire.
“I think the speaker is out of touch with the voters,” Patrick said on KLIF in Dallas. “This is an issue that people, supporters, constituents and voters want.”
Wednesday’s 21-10 final vote, identical to Tuesday’s initial vote, included support from all 20 Senate Republicans and one Democrat, state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville, who said: “I cast my vote from a place of faith and devotion.”
Like Patrick, opponents of SB 6 also turned their focus to the House, where Republicans hold a 95-55 advantage over Democrats but where conservative members of the GOP hold less sway.
Sarah Kate Ellis, president of GLAAD, a national LGBT advocacy group, said the Senate showed “complete disregard” for the state’s economy and the “well-being of the people they represent.”
“It is vital that SB 6 not become law and that the Texas House heed the call of fair-minded Texans, businesses, organizations, conferences and celebrities who have decried this hateful bill,” Ellis said.
Passions ran equally high during Wednesday’s Senate debate over legislation that 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.
Her voice cracking at times, state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, the bill’s author, said her family “has been through a lot from the so-called tolerant and anti-bullying” opponents of SB 6, which she defended as an attempt to strike a balance between privacy and compassion.
“I believe in my heart it’s an attempt to be as inclusive as we possibly can when we — men and women, but I speak from the women’s perspective — find ourselves in the most intimate situations,” said Kolkhorst, R-Brenham.
“And it’s not a transgender person that would violate that, but open policies allow people, sexual predators and other people, to abuse that moment,” she said.
State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, disputed GOP arguments that SB 6 was needed to protect the privacy and safety of women and children.
“The people who will be most affected by SB 6 are transgender Texans who are just trying to live their lives and be true to themselves. And this bill does discriminate against them. It harms one group of people under the false pretense of protecting the majority from some amorphous threat,” Watson said.
“We’re allowing fear to guide public policy and justifying discrimination … in the name of public safety,” he said.
State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, said nobody has been harmed “by this mythical, mysterious predator” in bathrooms.
“This is, in my view, legislative bullying,” she said.
But state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, insisted that SB 6 was narrowly crafted to “protect the privacy of all Texans.”
“I think for anyone to suggest this is at all political is disingenuous,” Campbell said. “This bill gives protection, dignity, safety. It provides liberty. It provides reasonable access to those who need it.”
Also Wednesday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton — joined by seven states, a religious hospital network and Christian medical associations — asked a federal judge to issue a final judgment overturning an Obama administration regulation designed to protect the health care decisions of transgender people by prohibiting discrimination based on “gender identity.”
U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor of Fort Worth had issued a preliminary injunction in December that blocked enforcement of the rule nationally.