Straus: Bath­room bill is 'con­trived'

Speaker sees ‘no fer­vor’ be­hind SB 6 in House, fears busi­ness back­lash.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Jonathan Tilove jtilove@states­

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus said that Se­nate Bill 6, the trans­gen­der bath­room bill, is a “con­trived” an­swer to a “man­u­fac­tured” prob­lem that could, for no good pur­pose, un­der­mine Texas’ ex­tra­or­di­nary suc­cess as a mag­net for job cre­ators. The speaker said he sees “no fer­vor” in the House to bring the leg­is­la­tion to the floor.

“I’m not say­ing that it wouldn’t pass if it were pushed on them, the mem­bers,” Straus, a Repub­li­can, said in a livestreamed in­ter­view Fri­day with Jim Hen­son, di­rec­tor of the Texas Pol­i­tics Pro­ject at the Univer­sity of Texas.

Hen­son noted that the bill, cham­pi­oned by Lt. Gov. Dan Pa­trick, isn’t a pri­or­ity for Straus.

“I’ve gone fur­ther than say­ing it’s not a pri­or­ity,” Straus said. “I op­pose it.”

SB 6 is the most ob­vi­ous but hardly the only point of con­tention be­tween Straus and fel­low Repub­li­can Pa­trick, who pre­sides over the Texas Se­nate. They dif­fer on the size of the bud­get and how to bal­ance it. Straus prefers dip­ping into the state’s $10 bil­lion rainy day fund; Pa­trick does not. Se­nate lead­ers want to de­lay a $2.5 bil­lion pay­ment for trans­porta­tion fund­ing, in what Straus has de­scribed as bud­get chi­canery wor­thy of En­ron, the Hous­ton com­pany that col­lapsed amid an enor­mous ac­count­ing scan­dal.

Pa­trick strongly backs SB 3, which ad­vo­cates por­tray as school choice leg­is­la­tion but op­po­nents liken to vouch­ers to sub­si­dize pri­vate school tuition. The bill cleared the Se­nate Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mit­tee on Thurs­day. Straus said House lead­ers prob­a­bly would give the bill the cour­tesy of a hear­ing, but that it might not make it any farther.

The Se­nate passed SB 6, 21-10, last week and, in an in­ter­view with Dal­las ra­dio sta­tion KLIF, Pa­trick said, “I think the speaker is out of touch with the vot­ers” in op­pos­ing the bill.

“This is an is­sue that peo­ple, sup­port­ers, con­stituents, vot­ers want,” Pa­trick said.

The bill would pro­hibit trans­gen­der peo­ple from us­ing the bath­room that con­forms with their gen­der iden­tity in pub­lic schools and uni­ver­si­ties and in gov­ern­ment build­ings. SB 6 also would over­turn city and county reg­u­la­tions re­quir­ing trans­gen­der-friendly bath­rooms.

“I come from San An­to­nio, and my con­stituents aren’t talk­ing about it, cer­tainly not in a pos­i­tive way,” Straus said. “My com­mu­nity is the one that, a year from now, is go­ing to have the Fi­nal Four, the NCAA bas­ket­ball cham­pi­onships, and we’re very sen­si­tive to send­ing the wrong sig­nals to those we want to at­tract.”

“We’ve also done such a great job in Texas over the last decade or more of build­ing this rep­u­ta­tion as be­ing out­stand­ing busi­ness mag­nets, job cre­ators are flock­ing here,” Straus said. “Our pop­u­la­tion has grown half a mil­lion a year. Tremen­dous growth. Job-cre­at­ing Mecca. Wel­com­ing state.”

Straus said en­act­ing SB 6 would be buy­ing trou­ble for no good rea­son, and with the ex­pe­ri­ence of North Carolina, which passed leg­is­la­tion reg­u­lat­ing pub­lic bath­room use for trans­gen­der in­di­vid­u­als, of­fer­ing a clear warn­ing not to go there.

“To walk into a sit­u­a­tion, with our eyes wide open, that North Carolina led on, and to be the first state af­ter them would, I think, be a tremen­dous mis­take,” Straus said. “It’s not just my opin­ion. It’s the opin­ion of thou­sands of busi­nesses, who are the job cre­ators.”

“Politi­cians don’t cre­ate those jobs but we can sure make some boo-boos that lead to prob­lems in job cre­ation and in our econ­omy, and I don’t want to be a party to that,” Straus said.

Straus, who has served as House speaker since 2009, said the is­sue came out of nowhere and for no ap­par­ent good rea­son.

“I never even heard of it un­til a year or two ago,” Straus said. “I don’t even know how it came up, but to get this much at­ten­tion in a leg­isla­tive ses­sion is as­tound­ing to me.”

Hen­son noted that the leg­is­la­tion seemed to have been a re­sponse to an Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion di­rec­tive re­quir­ing schools to ac­com­mo­date trans­gen­der stu­dents in their bath­rooms, but, Straus noted, “The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, I be­lieve, is not there any more, and the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has re­versed what­ever they did, so we’ll see where it goes, but count me as a ‘no.’ ”

“If we’ve got­ten to the point as a civ­i­liza­tion and a so­ci­ety that our politi­cians have to pass bills about bath­room stuff, we’ve got­ten re­ally out of con­trol,” Straus said.

“There are laws on the books about be­hav­ior in bath­rooms or crim­i­nal ac­tions in a bath­room or any­where else. It seems a lit­tle man­u­fac­tured to me and un­nec­es­sary.”

The Univer­sity of Texas/ Texas Tri­bune in­ter­net sur­vey of 1,200 reg­is­tered vot­ers, con­ducted Feb. 3-10 by the Texas Pol­i­tics Pro­ject, found that 54 per­cent of Tex­ans be­lieve that trans­gen­der in­di­vid­u­als should use the pub­lic re­stroom of their birth gen­der, and 31 per­cent think they should use the bath­room that fits their cur­rent gen­der iden­tity, with a 2.83-point mar­gin of er­ror. But 51 per­cent of Tex­ans also didn’t think it is im­por­tant that the Leg­is­la­ture deal with the mat­ter. Thirty-nine per­cent thought it was im­por­tant.

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