Bathroom Bill Dies in Texas as Special Session Ends

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — An anti-transgender “bathroom bill” that would have required people to use public facilities that match their biological sex is dead in Texas, after the Legislature adjourned its special session a day early.

Gov. Greg Abbott convened the 30-day special session on July 18 to address 20 of his priorities, including the bathroom bill, but it, and half of Abbott’s special session agenda, failed when the session adjourned Tuesday night due to friction between the state House and Senate.

Senate Bill 3 would have restricted use of bathrooms, showers and changing rooms in public schools and government buildings to a person’s sex as recorded on his or her birth certificate.

The upper chamber approved the measure early in the special session, despite significant opposition from business leaders, law enforcement officials and hundreds of Texans who asked lawmakers to kill the bill during public committee hearings.

Though the full state Senate approved it, SB 3 never received even a committee hearing in the House this summer.

In a radio interview Wednesday, Abbott blamed House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, for the bathroom bill’s failure.

“The speaker made it very clear to me personally that he opposed the privacy bill and then he said that he would never allow it to be voted on,” Abbott said. “And it’s disappointing because, listen, there was an opportunity to provide the certainty that’s desperately needed, especially by our schools and by parents, but he has been abundantly clear that he is never going to allow a vote to be taken on this issue, which is exactly why you saw it got bottled up in committee.”

Straus, a moderate Republican who prioritizes business interests, compared Abbott’s special session agenda to horse manure this summer, according to a June 14 Texas Tribune report.

The state House approved 10 of Abbott’s agenda items during the special session that cost taxpayers more than $1 million.

Both chambers adjourned Tuesday night, a day before the 30-day deadline, because of a stalemate on property tax reform.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, an ultra-conservative who supports the Tea Party agenda and championed the bathroom bill, had harsh words for Straus at a news conference Tuesday night, comparing the speaker to someone who would have abandoned the Alamo.

“The Texas Senate didn’t quit early,” Patrick said. “The Texas Senate didn’t go home without the job getting done. Thank goodness [Alamo commander William B.] Travis didn’t have the speaker at the Alamo. He might have been the first one over the wall.”

The House also declined to pick up Senate Bill 14, which would have made it illegal for cities to enact ordinances that keep property owners from cutting down certain protected trees.

Abbott has called such tree ordinances “socialistic” and once had a tussle with the City of Austin when he tried to cut down a protected pecan tree in his yard.

Instead, both chambers approved House Bill 7, requiring municipalities that impose fees for tree removal to allow people to plant trees and receive a credit to offset the fee.

Abbott signed the bill into law Wednesday, though he vetoed a nearly identical measure in May, saying it did not go far enough to protect property rights.

Abbott’s abortion-related agenda items were more successful during the special session.

The Legislature approved House Bill 214, which prohibits private and state-offered health insurance plans, and insurance plans purchased through the Affordable Care Act, from providing general coverage for abortions, except in medical emergencies when a woman’s life is in danger.

The measure, which Abbott signed Tuesday, makes no exceptions for rape, incest or fetal abnormalities, and requires women to buy supplemental health insurance if they want coverage for abortion.

Opponents of the bill have called it “rape insurance.”

Abbott also signed House Bill 13, which requires abortion providers to report more details about abortion complications, and fines those who do not comply. Doctors in Texas now must submit within 72 hours reports to the state health commission that include information on the patient’s race, marital status, the date of her last menstrual cycle, and the number of previous abortions.

Opponents say the law imposes burdensome and unnecessary reporting requirements.

Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said in a statement that the two new laws are part of a long line of abortion restrictions the Texas Legislature passed which “prohibit Texans from making the decisions that are best for them.”

“Throughout the regular legislative session and this special session, we have seen attack after attack on our reproductive freedoms,” Busby said. “These attacks come from a concerted national effort to cut off access to abortion care.”

At a news conference Tuesday, called by a coalition of progressive groups dubbed “One Texas Resistance,” speakers criticized the Legislature for pushing an agenda that attacked the civil liberties of women, immigrants and transgender Texans.

“The legislative agenda during the regular session and during the special session was filled with destructive, oppressive and hateful policies that hurt the lives of real people,” said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network. “All were distractions so that the legislature can ignore the real priorities of Texans: safety, health, public education, dignity, justice and opportunity.”

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, said at the conference that the regular and special legislative sessions in Texas this year were “Trump-inspired.”

“The governor tried to bully local government, cities, counties, women, Hispanics, African-Americans. He even tried to bully his own legislators,” Castro said. “He’s tried to bully everybody, just as the man in the White House has.”

Castro said the Legislature is a “completely dysfunctional system” and that Texans must do a better job of showing up at the polls if anything is to change.

But voter turnout might not make much of a difference in Texas in 2018, as Abbott so far is running for re-election unopposed. The filing deadline to run for governor is Dec. 11, and Texas Democrats still have no idea who their candidate might be.

Texas’ next legislative session is scheduled to begin Jan. 8, 2019.

 

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