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Whether they pull it off will depend on how Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick responds to the House’s decision to let local nondiscrimination ordinances stand.
The Texas House passed last-minute legislation Sunday that would force transgender public school students to use separate bathrooms, locker rooms and changing rooms from the gender they identify as.
Republican Rep. Chris Paddie’s transgender amendment, tacked onto a Senate bill concerning school district emergency operations, now goes back to the upper house, which had proposed separate, broader bathroom legislation.
House Republicans argued the amendment was a matter of public safety, while Democratic lawmakers likened it to discriminatory Jim Crow-era measures.
“White. Colored. I was living through that era . . . bathrooms divided us then, and it divides us now,” said Democratic state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, a black woman, according to The Texas Tribune. “America has long recognized that separate but equal is not equal at all.”
Should Texas become the second state in the U.S. behind North Carolina to pass such a law, it would preempt trans-friendly policies many school districts have established.
The Texas Association of School Boards called Paddie’s amendment “a common-sense solution,” according to The Dallas Morning News.
Unclear is how Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Senate leader, will respond to the House amendment.
Patrick has vowed to force a special session if transgender bathrooms were not addressed this legislative session. His flagship bill in the Senate would have extended the bathroom ban to government-owned buildings and college campuses. House Speaker Joe Straus called such measures “manufactured and unnecessary,” according to the Houston Chronicle. Straus also warned these steps would be bad for Texas business interests, with large-scale boycotts likely.
"I believe this amendment will allow us to avoid the severely negative impact of Senate Bill 6. Members of the House wanted to act on this issue and my philosophy as Speaker has never been to force my will on the body," Straus, a Republican, said in a statement. "Gov. Abbott has said he would demand action on this in a special session, and the House decided to dispose of the issue in this way."
Patrick has threatened to hold hostage the “sunset safety net bill,” which keeps certain state agencies afloat. And he could still do so. Most frustrating to him might be the fact House Republicans let local nondiscrimination ordinances stand, an amendment loophole that would continue to protect transgender students’ rights where such city and county laws exist.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler had this to say:
Should the bill become law, a legal challenge is likely.
“This shameful amendment is yet another example of Texas lawmakers’ anti-LGBTQ agenda,” said JoDee Winterhof, the Human Rights Campaign’s senior vice president for policy and political affairs, according to The Tribune. “Transgender youth deserve the same dignity and respect as their peers, and this craven attempt to use children as a pawn for cheap political points is disturbing and unconscionable.”
Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.