On Tuesday night, one week into Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's first called special session of the 85th Texas Legislature, the Texas Senate signed off on the term's most controversial bill. After nearly eight hours of debate, 20 Republicans and one Democrat voted to require Texas children attending public schools to use bathrooms consistent with the sex listed on their birth certificates.The bill also strikes down any city ordinance that allows transgender individuals to use the bathroom they are most comfortable using,
The Texas Senate seems to be the only place in the state enthusiastic about passing the bill.
On Tuesday, law enforcement leaders from around the state gathered on the steps of the Texas Capitol building to speak against the bill, calling it "a solution in search of a problem." Dallas police Maj. Reuben Ramirez said that he's researched data to 2014 and could not find a single instance of a man assaulting a woman in a bathroom. The bill places a bigger burden on the state's law enforcement officers, he argues.
"If you support your police, listen to your police," he said. "There's no need for this legislation."
Inside the Capitol, the lines drawn in the debate over the bill traced the same faults as those covered during the regular session. Sen. Lois Kolkhurst, a Republican from Brenham, insisted that the bill was intended only to "provide the privacy and safety that Texans expect" in the bathroom. Dismissing the fears of the Texas business community about the potential economic impact of the bill, which is expected to drive convention and event traffic away from the state, Kolkhurst said that the bill put the state's "daughters over dollars," a sentiment echoed by supporters of the bill after the vote.
"Sen. Kolkhorst said it best: 'daughters over dollars.' Thanks to the hard work of Senator Kolkhorst and a bipartisan group of Senators, the Senate has given a voice to Texas women and girls," said Nicole Hudgens, a policy analyst with the conservative group Texas Values. "It’s now the Texas House’s turn to finally protect privacy and eliminate the patchwork of confusing school district and local government policies for showers, locker rooms and bathrooms."
Senate Democrats painted the bill as throwback to the Jim Crow era in Texas, when discrimination was written into the state's laws.
"The bill you filed affirmatively allows discrimination. It says you can’t protect from discrimination," said state Sen. Kirk Watson, a Democrat from Austin. Sylvia Garcia, another Democrat from Houston, asked Kolkhurst whether she believed transgender boys are boys. Kolkhurst refused to answer.
"I do know there are differences, and much of that is about science and testosterone," Kolkhorst said. "Scientifically, there's a lot to debate."
Across the state, business groups, municipal leaders and school districts have come out against the bill, which would allow Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to sue cities or counties that pass ordinances to protect the right of transgender individuals to use the bathroom of their choice.
Tuesday's vote will trigger what's sure to be a nasty fight with the Texas House of Representatives. Those in opposition to the bill have a key ally in the speaker, Joe Straus, who refused to allow his chamber to vote on the expansive bathroom bill preferred by the Senate during the regular session.
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Straus, who told the New Yorker's Lawrence Wright that he "didn't want the suicide of a single Texan on his hands," in reference to the bill earlier this year, has shown no signs of being more receptive to bathroom legislation during the special session. On Tuesday, during the Senate debate, he took to Twitter to imply that bill the on which the Senate was so focused is unnecessary.
"I'm grateful, he said, "that the House passed the sunset bill and committees are working on a number of other important issues today."
I'm grateful that the House passed the sunset bill and committees are working on a number of other important issues today. #txlege— Joe Straus (@SpeakerStraus) July 25, 2017
If the bill receives the necessary final procedural approval from the Senate on Wednesday as expected, the proverbial ball will be in Straus' court. He'll have 22 days of special session left to get past if he intends to run out the clock.