400 de­bate bath­room bill

Most voice op­po­si­tion to House panel dur­ing overnight hear­ing

The Dallas Morning News - - FRONT PAGE - By LAU­REN MCGAUGHY Austin Bureau lm­c­gaughy@dal­las­news.com

AUSTIN — By the time the Gon­za­les fam­ily stood to speak early Thurs­day morn­ing, the fam­ily’s young daugh­ter had fallen asleep. Slung over her fa­ther’s back, Libby fid­geted and, at one point, yawned as her par­ents pleaded with House law­mak­ers to de­fend her rights as a trans­gen­der girl and a Texan.

“Many, many fam­i­lies in Texas, in­clud­ing my own, are count­ing on you to keep our chil­dren safe,” Libby’s mother, Rachel Gon­za­les, told the House Com­mit­tee on State Af­fairs just be­fore 2 a.m. “Please do not let us down.”

Libby, 7, had wanted to speak. But she had nod­ded off, so her par­ents pleaded on her be­half. House Bill 2899, the so-called bath­room bill be­ing de­bated that night, would put Libby in dan­ger, her mother said: “It’s scary enough as a par­ent to know you won’t al­ways be able to pro­tect your chil­dren from the ugly in this world.”

The Gon­za­les fam­ily rep­re­sented a few of the scores of peo­ple from across Texas who turned out for a latenight de­bate on the bath­room bill. By mid­night

Wed­nes­day, when de­bate on the bill kicked off, nearly 400 peo­ple had signed up to sup­port or re­ject the bill; 369 were op­posed.

House Bill 2899 would do away with city or­di­nances and school dis­trict rules that al­low trans­gen­der peo­ple to use the re­strooms that match their gen­der iden­tity. It would not bar cities from pass­ing laws that pro­hibit cer­tain peo­ple from us­ing cer­tain re­strooms, chang­ing rooms and locker rooms and would also strip rights from groups such as veterans, the el­derly and preg­nant women.

‘Eco­nomic harm’

The com­mit­tee did not vote on the bill Thurs­day but heard tes­ti­mony from any mem­bers of the pub­lic who wanted to speak. By 2 a.m., com­mit­tee Chair By­ron Cook, R-Cor­si­cana, said there were still more than 100 peo­ple signed up to speak; de­bate didn’t con­clude un­til around 5 a.m.

The res­i­dents and busi­nesses of Dal­las be­lieve dis­crim­i­na­tion has “no home in our com­mu­nity,” Dal­las City Coun­cil mem­ber Lee Klein­man told the law­mak­ers on be­half of the en­tire coun­cil. “Please do not per­pet­u­ate this dis­crim­i­na­tion.”

Visit Dal­las CEO Phillip Jones also op­posed the bill and gave the com­mit­tee four rec­om­men­da­tions to im­prove the leg­is­la­tion: Let cities keep their nondis­crim­i­na­tion laws; let cities pass new nondis­crim­i­na­tion laws through voter ref­er­en­dums; limit the bill to school dis­tricts and gov­ern­ment build­ings; and ex­empt pub­lic build­ings leased by pri­vate en­ti­ties, such as sta­di­ums and con­ven­tion cen­ters.

Jones said 24 con­ven­tions and events rep­re­sent­ing $150 mil­lion in eco­nomic im­pact for Dal­las had threat­ened “in writ­ing” to pull out if a bill like this one was passed: “I’m not sure why we’re pass­ing leg­is­la­tion that could cause such eco­nomic harm to our state.”

Klein­man said city of­fi­cials dis­agreed with the carve-outs of­fered by Jones, say­ing they were for “equal pro­tec­tion un­der the law for all res­i­dents, no ex­cep­tions.”

‘Un­equal pro­tec­tions’

Dur­ing the late-night de­bate, Cook ex­pressed con­cern over trans­gen­der stu­dents like Libby us­ing the bath­rooms that match their gen­der iden­ti­ties but also said he didn’t see any ev­i­dence that trans­gen­der adults were a threat in pub­lic re­strooms. He ques­tioned one man speak­ing in fa­vor of the bill about what fa­cil­i­ties a trans­gen­der per­son who looks and dresses like a woman should use.

“Where should they go to the bath­room?” Cook asked. “If they go into the men’s room in a dress, there’s go­ing to be a riot in there.”

“I’m try­ing to un­der­stand how that’s bet­ter safety. I’m just scratch­ing my head about how any­one is safer.”

Pas­tor David Welch, head of the Texas Pas­tors Coun­cil, was one of the few who spoke for the bill, say­ing it was “prob­lem­atic” for each city to have dif­fer­ent or­di­nances on the books.

“The def­i­ni­tion of gen­der iden­tity ... sim­ply varies from city to city,” said Welch. “We be­lieve in equal pro­tec­tion, but this is cre­at­ing un­equal pro­tec­tions.”

When Cook pushed back, ask­ing for ev­i­dence that trans­gen­der peo­ple were as­sault­ing peo­ple in re­strooms, Welch said, “We’re not say­ing the trans­gen­der com­mu­nity is part of that.”

“I don’t think there’s a his­tor­i­cal prob­lem,” Cook replied. “I haven’t seen it, and I’ve been on this com­mit­tee a long time, and I’ve never seen that com­mu­nity present any prob­lems.”

Dif­fer­ent bills

The Se­nate passed its ver­sion of the bath­room bill last month. Se­nate Bill 6 dif­fers greatly from the House bill in that it would re­quire peo­ple to use the bath­rooms in pub­lic schools, univer­si­ties and gov­ern­ment build­ings based on the “bi­o­log­i­cal sex” on their birth cer­tifi­cates.

That bill has stalled in the House, where Speaker Joe Straus has ques­tioned the need for bath­room leg­is­la­tion. Be­fore Cook sched­uled the hear­ing on House Bill 2899, he, too, ques­tioned the need for leg­is­la­tion. But this week he called the House mea­sure “bal­anced,” one that hope­fully the busi­ness com­mu­nity would get be­hind.

It hasn’t, op­pos­ing both the House and Se­nate bills vig­or­ously. But Cook blasted rep­re­sen­ta­tives from or­ga­ni­za­tions such as the Texas As­so­ci­a­tion of Busi­ness, say­ing big cor­po­ra­tions like Amer­i­can Air­lines, Google and Whole Foods Mar­ket should have showed up at Thurs­day’s hear­ing.

“They should be here tes­ti­fy­ing and they’re not,” said Cook. “I find that very un­for­tu­nate, be­cause they have a real stake in this.”

Rep. Ron Sim­mons, RCar­roll­ton, is the House bill’s spon­sor. Pre­sent­ing his bill for the com­mit­tee at the start of the late-night hear­ing, Sim­mons said he sim­ply wanted to make lo­cal or­di­nances uni­form.

“This is­sue needs to be the same in Austin as it in in Abi­lene,” he said, “the same in Houston as it is in Hutto.”

For the first time, Gov. Greg Ab­bott threw his sup­port Tues­day be­hind the idea of pass­ing a bath­room bill. He called the House pro­posal “thought­ful” and in­di­cated he would work with Repub­li­cans to craft leg­is­la­tion that would be­come law. His sup­port makes it much more likely Texas will be­come the sec­ond state in the na­tion, af­ter North Carolina, to pass a bath­room bill.

Lau­ren McGaughy/Staff

Libby Gon­za­les, a trans­gen­der 7-year-old,

sleeps on the shoul­der of her fa­ther, Frank, as he speaks be­fore the House Com­mit­tee on State Af­fairs. Al­most 400 peo­ple signed up to de­bate House Bill 2899, the so-called bath­room bill, at the hear­ing that be­gan Wed­nes­day.

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