Texas Senate OKs Bathroom Bill in Special Session

(File photo by Kelsey Jukam, CNS)

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) – In a midnight vote Wednesday, the Texas Senate passed the latest version of its so-called “bathroom bill” requiring transgender people to use public facilities that match their biological sex.

Senate Bill 3 would restrict the use of bathrooms, showers and changing rooms in public schools and government buildings to facilities matching a person’s sex as recorded on his or her birth certificate or on ID cards issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The bill also prohibits cities and schools from adopting anti-discrimination policies on bathroom facilities or any policy that would allow a person whose birth certificate states their sex as male to participate in women’s athletic activities.

The Senate approved the bill with a 21-10 vote, after an eight-hour debate Tuesday during which Democrats argued that the bill was discriminatory and dangerous, while Republicans maintained it was necessary to protect the safety and privacy of women and children.

The bill’s author, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, told her colleagues that SB3 would stop predators and voyeurs who might otherwise exploit a “lack of gender boundaries” to assault women in bathrooms, showers or changing rooms.

“It will hit the reset button and provide the privacy and safety that Texans expect,” Kolkhorst said.

Senate Democrats said that SB3 was reminiscent of Jim Crow-era segregation laws, and they argued the bill would endanger the lives of transgender people, an already vulnerable population that faces alarmingly high rates of suicide and violent attacks.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, has been an outspoken opponent of the legislation since it was taken up during the regular legislative session, which ended in May, and she sat through hours of public testimony on the bill given at Senate State Affairs Committee hearings even though she is not a committee member.

Garcia asked her Republican colleagues to try to put themselves in the shoes of 7-year-old Libby Gonzales, a transgender girl who testified at a committee hearing last week.

“She’s at school wearing her little ballerina skirt with a bow in her hair, standing outside of the boys’ restroom trying to build up the courage to walk in,” Garcia said. “Try to feel her fear for a moment. Imagine what that would be like for you or your daughters. Or maybe she gets one of these ‘separate but equal’ restrooms and she has to be reminded everyday that she is different and will never quite fit in with other little girls.”

Garcia told Kolkhorst that SB3 would do exactly what it is supposed to prevent — putting boys in the girls bathroom and vice versa– because “trans boys are boys and trans girls are girls.”

“This bill has nothing to do with privacy and everything to do with the further marginalization of transgender Texans,” Garcia said. “This bill will increase the traumatizing and sometimes deadly experiences our transgender Texans live through on a day to day basis while just trying to simply survive.”

Law enforcement officials from across the state, who spoke outside the Capitol as Senators debated inside Tuesday, echoed Garcia’s concerns that SB3 would put transgender people at risk while doing nothing to make anyone else safe.

Police chiefs from Austin, Houston and San Antonio said there were already laws against the type of behavior SB3 was supposedly designed to prevent, and that there haven’t been any reports of assaults in public or school bathrooms, showers or changing facilities.

“Labor and management are lock-step on this,” Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said. “It’s a bad law, it’s bad political theater and, at the end of the day, it’s bad for the state of Texas.”

San Antonio Police Chief Bill McManus said the bill was a “solution looking for a problem.”

“Beyond my wildest dreams, I never thought that I’d be standing in front of the state Capitol talking about a bathroom bill, like police don’t have anything better to do than talk about who goes in what bathroom,” McManus said.

He asked how officers were supposed to enforce the bill, and whether they would now be required to stand at the doors of bathrooms asking people to show their birth certificates.

“Don’t pass this unnecessary bill that does nothing to make us safer, that targets thousand of transgender Texans and that makes our jobs more complicated,” McManus said.

The Senate considered more than 20 amendments to the bill, rejecting several offered by Democrats that would have softened the blow the legislation would have on transgender Texans and increased penalties for attacks on them.

The chamber did adopt an amendment to exempt stadiums, convention centers and other government-owned venues if they were leased to a private entity.

The amendment was an attempt to appease many business leaders and city officials opposed to the bill on the grounds that it could drive away top-tier sporting events, professional conferences and conventions of organizations that have anti-discrimination policies.

The Senate also adopted an exception to allow caregivers providing assistance to someone because of their age or disability into facilities.

The most significant change made to the bill was an amendment that added Department of Public Safety-issued IDs to the list of documents used to determine what bathroom a person should use. This includes driver’s licenses and concealed handgun licenses, but not school IDs.

The bill now heads to the Texas House, where it must be given another committee hearing before being brought up for a vote.

An earlier version of the bill, a pet project of Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, passed in the Senate in May but stalled in the House during the regular legislative session.

Patrick pressed Gov. Greg Abbott to pick up the issue during the 30-day special session that began last week to address 20 of Abbott’s favored issues.

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, has said he opposed the bill and has called it “manufactured and unnecessary,” but many House Republicans support the measure.

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