After spending much of the beginning of the 2017 Texas legislative session refusing to take a position on his state's controversial "bathroom bill," Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced his support for the legislation Tuesday afternoon.
"As the debate on this issue continues, I will work with the House and Senate to ensure we find a solution and ultimately get a bill to my desk that I will sign into law," Abbott said.
Abbott's statement comes at a crucial time for bathroom legislation in this year's session. House Bill 2899, the Texas House's alternative to the Texas Senate's more stringent Senate Bill 6, will be debated in the State Affairs Committee on Wednesday.
Rather than requiring visitors to state-owned facilities to use a bathroom whose signs matches the sex listed on their birth certificate, the House alternative simply bans cities, school districts and other "political subdivisions" from passing local nondiscrimination ordinances that allow people to use the bathroom they feel the most comfortable using.
The city of Dallas, for example, clarified its nondiscrimination ordinance in 2015 to emphasize protections for transgender Dallas residents. The Dallas ordinance, and others across the state, would be invalidated by HB 2899.
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Abbott praised the House compromise on Tuesday. "Rep. [Ron] Simmons [the author of the H.B. 2899] is offering a thoughtful proposal to make sure our children maintain privacy in our school bathrooms and locker rooms," Abbott said.
Supporters of the Simmons' bill hope that it will be more palatable to Texas' business community than SB 6, which faces considerable backlash from the Texas Association of Business and other groups that fear Texas' businesses and tourism industries will be hurt by the discriminatory law. A study released Monday by the San Antonio Area Tourism Council suggests that the Texas could lose as much as $3.3 billion in gross product from its economy if it passes bathroom legislation.
Nevertheless, Abbott says he's happy the Legislature, under the leadership of Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, has taken up the issue. “I applaud the House and Senate for tackling an issue that is of growing concern to parents and communities across Texas who are now looking to the Legislature for solutions,” Abbott said.
It remains to be seen whether Abbott's support will have any effect on whether or not bathroom legislation actually makes it to the House floor. Joe Straus, the speaker of the Texas House, said earlier this year that bathroom legislation was not a priority and expressed doubts about its potential effect on Texas business. Tuesday afternoon Straus spokesman Jason Embry told reporters that Abbott's statement "has not changed" the speaker's position on any potential bathroom legislation.