Sen­ate gives ini­tial OK to bath­room bill

Mea­sure would ban trans­gen­der-friendly fa­cil­i­ties in some places.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Chuck Lin­dell clin­dell@states­man.com

Vot­ing largely along party lines, the Texas Sen­ate ap­proved the trans­gen­der bath­room bill Tues­day evening, turn­ing aside Demo­cratic warn­ings that Sen­ate Bill 6 would fur­ther stig­ma­tize a vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tion and hurt the state’s econ­omy.

A fi­nal, largely cer­e­mo­nial Sen­ate vote is ex­pected Wed­nes­day, send­ing SB 6 to the House, where Speaker Joe Straus has shown a no­table lack of en­thu­si­asm for a mea­sure that would pro­hibit trans­gen­der-friendly bath­room poli­cies in pub­lic schools and uni­ver­si­ties and in gov­ern­ment build­ings.

Tues­day’s 21-10 vote, with Sen. Ed­die Lu­cio Jr. of Brownsville as the only Demo­crat to join all 20 Repub­li­cans in sup­port, came af­ter 4½ hours of of­ten pas­sion­ate de­bate.

“I think the peo­ple of Texas ex­pect bound­aries be­tween gen­ders,” said the bill’s au­thor, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Bren­ham, adding that she was “stand­ing up for those who want pri­vacy and pro­tec­tion in the most in­ti­mate places.”

“This is about find­ing a bal­ance be­tween the right to de­clare your gen­der and the right of a par­ent to de­fend a child’s in­ter­est,” Kolk-

horst said.

But Sen. Sylvia Gar­cia, D-Hous­ton, asked Kolkhorst and other Repub­li­cans to con­sider the im­pact SB 6 could have on trans­gen­der Tex­ans, more than 40 per­cent of whom have at­tempted sui­cide, ac­cord­ing to pub­lic health es­ti­mates.

“This bill might just be con­tribut­ing to that be­cause it puts ad­di­tional stigma and em­bar­rass­ment” on trans­gen­der peo­ple, Gar­cia said.

“Do you not see how much dam­age this bill is go­ing to do?” she said.

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hi­no­josa, D-McAllen, was equally blunt: “I think this bill is more about dis­crim­i­na­tion against a cer­tain group of our cit­i­zens, es­pe­cially trans­gen­der peo­ple.”

“These are not easy is­sues,” Kolkhorst ac­knowl­edged.

“Don’t think I don’t pray about this and mak­ing sure we are mak­ing the right de­ci­sion,” she said.

Be­fore the vote on SB 6, Lu­cio joined Repub­li­cans to mow down 17 amend­ments from other Democrats — in­clud­ing ef­forts to study the num­ber of crimes in bath­rooms, add anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion pro­tec­tion for trans­gen­der peo­ple, track the eco­nomic im­pact of SB 6 and cre­ate an ad cam­paign ad­vis­ing against bath­room con­fronta­tions to ver­ify gen­der.

Dubbed the Texas Pri­vacy Act be­cause it also would ap­ply to locker rooms and chang­ing ar­eas, SB 6 was the sub­ject of this ses­sion’s long­est pub­lic hear­ing — end­ing 21 hours af­ter it be­gan last week and fea­tur­ing 13 hours of pub­lic tes­ti­mony, with op­po­nents out­num­ber­ing sup­port­ers by about 9-to-1.

SB 6 would re­quire schools and gov­ern­ment build­ings to limit the use of mul­ti­stall bath­rooms to the gen­der listed on a cur­rent birth cer­tifi­cate — an ac­com­mo­da­tion, Repub­li­cans have said, to trans­gen­der peo­ple who have tran­si­tioned. Dur­ing Tues­day’s de­bate, how­ever, sev­eral Demo­cratic sen­a­tors ar­gued that it is dif­fi­cult and ex­pen­sive to get a court-or­dered change to birth cer­tifi­cates.

Of an es­ti­mated 125,000 trans­gen­der Tex­ans, only about 500 have changed the sex listed on their birth cer­tifi­cates, Gar­cia said. “It’s not that easy.”

SB 6 also would im­pose an es­ca­lat­ing fine on schools or gov­ern­ments that al­low trans­gen­der peo­ple to use the bath­room that con­forms with their gen­der iden­tity. Civil penal­ties start at $1,000 to $1,500, ris­ing to $10,000 to $10,500 for each sub­se­quent vi­o­la­tion.

The state at­tor­ney gen­eral would be re­quired to in­ves­ti­gate all com­plaints about pos­si­ble vi­o­la­tions. The bill also would:

Over­turn city and county reg­u­la­tions that re­quire trans­gen­der-friendly bath­rooms.

Al­low busi­nesses to form their own bath­room poli­cies.

Al­low busi­nesses to ap­ply their own bath­room poli­cies in­side rented gov­ern­ment-owned build­ings. This would al­low sports leagues, for ex­am­ple, to have trans­gen­der-friendly bath­rooms in are­nas.

Pro­hibit lo­cal gov­ern­ments from with­hold­ing or can­cel­ing con­tracts be­cause of the bath­room pol­icy adopted by a busi­ness.

Sev­eral Repub­li­cans said SB 6 would elim­i­nate an op­por­tu­nity for sex­ual preda­tors to en­ter women’s re­strooms and locker rooms un­der a pre­text.

“We heard from rape vic­tims who said pro­tect us not from the trans­gen­der com­mu­nity but from per­pe­tra­tors who might ... come into our re­strooms and our most in­ti­mate fa­cil­i­ties and frighten us,” said Sen. Joan Huff­man, R-Hous­ton.

But Sen. John Whit­mire, D-Hous­ton, said a search of ev­ery sex of­fender in Texas pris­ons found none who had at­tacked some­body in a bath­room. And if it hap­pened, other laws — in­clud­ing as­sault, voyeurism and ha­rass­ment — are al­ready on the books, he said.

“We don’t need your bill to pros­e­cute them,” Whit­mire said.

RALPH BAR­RERA / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

“I think the peo­ple of Texas ex­pect bound­aries be­tween gen­ders,” the bill’s au­thor, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, said Tues­day, adding that she was “stand­ing up for those who want pri­vacy and pro­tec­tion in the most in­ti­mate places.”

RALPH BAR­RERA/AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Pa­trick (left), who has made SB 6, pro­hibit­ing trans­gen­der-friendly bath­rooms, a top pri­or­ity for the Sen­ate, speaks Tues­day with Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Bren­ham, the au­thor of the legislation.

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