Bath­room bill likely af­fects 2-year col­leges

ACC, oth­ers watch­ful, stress open­ness of com­mu­nity higher ed.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Ralph K.M. Hau­r­witz rhau­r­witz@statesman.com

When state Sen. Kirk Wat­son quizzed Sen. Lois Kolkhorst on the Se­nate floor about the scope of her bill to out­law cer­tain trans­gen­der-friendly bath­rooms in Texas, she made it clear that the mea­sure would ap­ply to pub­lic schools and lo­cal gov­ern­ments but not to uni­ver­si­ties or state agen­cies.

Left un­said: It al­most cer­tainly would ap­ply to the state’s 50 com­mu­nity col­lege dis­tricts.

“Since it doesn’t ex­plic­itly ex­clude us, our un­der­stand­ing is it would ap­ply to us,” Dustin Meador, di­rec­tor of gov­ern­ment re­la­tions for the Texas As­so­ci­a­tion of Com­mu­nity Col­leges, told the Amer­i­can-Statesman. “It’s just as­sumed that we are a po­lit­i­cal sub­di­vi­sion” cov­ered by the bill.

That as­pect of Se­nate Bill 3, which hasn’t pre­vi­ously been re­ported, has com­mu­nity, or ju­nior, col­lege of­fi­cials con­cerned. The mea­sure was ap­proved last week by the Se­nate and sent to the House, where it has yet to be as­signed to a com­mit­tee by House Speaker Joe Straus, who — in con­trast to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the up­per cham­ber’s pre­sid­ing of­fi­cer — says such leg­is­la­tion would put trans­gen­der peo­ple at risk and jeop­ar­dize the econ­omy. House Bill 46 and HB 50, which also seek to limit trans­gen­der bath­room poli­cies, like­wise face an up­hill bat­tle.

Sup­port­ers say the leg­is­la­tion is

needed to pro­tect the safety and dig­nity of women in vul­ner­a­ble sit­u­a­tions. Bruce Les­lie, chan­cel­lor of the Alamo Col­leges District, said it runs counter to the mis­sion of two-year schools.

“Com­mu­nity col­leges, by their mis­sion and pur­pose, are com­mit­ted to marginal­ized peo­ple, whether they are eco­nom­i­cally marginal­ized or oth­er­wise chal­lenged,” said Les­lie, who over­sees five col­leges in the San An­to­nio area. “We are open to ev­ery­body. We very de­lib­er­ately met with the trans­gen­der com­mu­nity sev­eral years ago” and worked out an ap­proach to make pri­vate re­strooms avail­able as needed. “We’ve had no is­sues.”

An Austin Com­mu­nity Col­lege of­fi­cial also em­pha­sized the na­ture of ju­nior col­leges.

“We are an open in­sti­tu­tion and want all of our stu­dents, fac­ulty and staff to feel wel­come, re­spected and se­cure,” said Molly Beth Mal­colm, ACC’s vice pres­i­dent for com­mu­nity en­gage­ment and pub­lic af­fairs. “We are mon­i­tor­ing the leg­is­la­tion. Should it pass and be signed into law, we will work with our ACC com­mu­nity to re­view what changes, if any, are nec­es­sary.”

SB 3 would limit mul­ti­ple-oc­cu­pancy re­strooms, show­ers and locker rooms to per­sons of the same sex as stated on a birth cer­tifi­cate or one of three doc­u­ments is­sued by the Texas Depart­ment of Pub­lic Safety: a driver’s li­cense, per­sonal iden­ti­fi­ca­tion cer­tifi­cate or li­cense to carry a hand­gun. It also would pro­hibit stu­dent-ath­letes from par­tic­i­pat­ing in ac­tiv­i­ties for fe­male ath­letes if their birth cer­tifi­cates say they are male.

The mea­sure ap­plies to “po­lit­i­cal sub­di­vi­sions, in­clud­ing pub­lic school dis­tricts, and open-en­roll­ment char­ter schools.” Po­lit­i­cal sub­di­vi­sions aren’t de­fined in the bill but gen­er­ally en­com­pass cities, coun­ties and var­i­ous spe­cial-pur­pose dis­tricts in ad­di­tion to school dis­tricts.

Wat­son, a Demo­crat from Austin, said the bill’s lack of clar­ity on ex­actly which po­lit­i­cal sub­di­vi­sions are in­cluded is trou­bling. The mea­sure would be­come part of Chap­ter 250 of the Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Code, but that chap­ter also doesn’t de­fine a po­lit­i­cal sub­di­vi­sion.

How­ever, Chap­ters 172, 176 and 271 of the Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Code say that ju­nior col­leges are po­lit­i­cal sub­di­vi­sions. Chap­ter 241, on the other hand, doesn’t in­clude them in the def­i­ni­tion.

“We should never pass a bill where the au­thor of the bill can’t tell you to whom it ap­plies,” Wat­son said.

Kolkhorst, R-Bren­ham, re­sponded to the Statesman’s query by email: “In def­er­ence to Gov­er­nor Abbott’s spe­cial ses­sion in­struc­tions, which di­rected law­mak­ers to work from the lan­guage con­tained in House Bill 2899 from the reg­u­lar ses­sion, Se­nate Bill 3 left the term ‘po­lit­i­cal sub­di­vi­sion’ un­de­fined, just as it was in HB 2899 with 80 co-au­thors. There are sev­eral def­i­ni­tions of this term in the law, some of which ap­ply to com­mu­nity col­leges. I look for­ward to work­ing with the House and Gov­er­nor Abbott on clar­i­fy­ing this leg­is­la­tion as the spe­cial ses­sion con­tin­ues.”

HB 2899, which never came up for a vote in com­mit­tee, would have barred or­di­nances “to pro­tect a class of per­sons from dis­crim­i­na­tion.”

Sen. Judith Zaf­firini, a mem­ber of the State Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, which heard nearly 11 hours of tes­ti­mony on the bill, said she doesn’t re­call any men­tion of com­mu­nity col­leges. “I would be very sur­prised, and I think some of the other sen­a­tors would be very sur­prised, that com­mu­nity col­leges would be in­cluded,” said Zaf­firini, D-Laredo.

If the bill passes and ap­plies to com­mu­nity col­leges, “there will be peo­ple who choose to go else­where be­cause they don’t want to be part of a place that dis­crim­i­nates,” Wat­son pre­dicted. It would also have an im­pact on in­ter­col­le­giate athletics at the twoyear schools with such pro­grams, he said.

The Na­tional Ju­nior Col­lege Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion’s ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee will con­vene this month to con­sider this and sim­i­lar leg­is­la­tion. “We want to be sure that we are hon­or­ing the val­ues of our na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion and the stu­dent-ath­letes we serve, while also be­ing sup­port­ive of the hosts that have worked so hard in pro­vid­ing out­stand­ing ex­pe­ri­ences for our mem­ber­ship,” said Mark Krug, as­sis­tant ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor.

Cen­tral Health, Travis County’s health care district, is also in watch­ful-wait­ing mode.

“We’re cur­rently tak­ing in­ven­tory of re­stroom fa­cil­i­ties at about 26 sites, which in­cludes Cen­tral Health build­ings and Com­mUni­tyCare clin­ics,” said Su­san Lara Wil­lars, en­ter­prise vice pres­i­dent of hu­man re­sources. “We un­der­stand the im­por­tance of pro­vid­ing gen­der-neu­tral re­stroom ac­com­mo­da­tions for em­ploy­ees and the pub­lic. We want to do ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to ac­com­mo­date our staff and the peo­ple we serve who are trans­gen­der or gen­der non­bi­nary so they al­ways feel wel­come, safe and pro­tected.”

State Sen. Kirk Wat­son, D-Austin, says he’s trou­bled by the lack of speci­ficity in Se­nate Bill 3. The bill’s au­thor, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Bren­ham, said she hopes to clar­ify de­tails in talks with the House and gov­er­nor.

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