UPDATE: HB 3859, which would allow privately-owned foster care and adoption agencies to discriminate based on personal religious beliefs and still receive state and federal funds, has been sent to the desk of Gov. Greg Abbott. Call Abbott’s office at 512-463-2000 NOW, or email his office here to tell Abbott not to sign this discriminatory legislation and SB 2078 into law.
James M. Russell | Contributing Writer
(Watch video below of Rep. Chris Paddie explaining his amendment and Rep. Rafael Anchia speaking against it.)
The Texas House late Sunday night passed a bill concerning hazard and emergency planning for charter and public schools that included an amendment restricting transgender students’ access to bathrooms.
The amendment, by Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, to Senate Bill 2078 requires that students use bathrooms, locker rooms and other intimate spaces according to their “biological sex” and not their gender identity. It requires school districts also accommodate students by providing access to a single stall bathroom.
During debate on the amendment, Paddie faced criticism from Democratic colleagues, who said the amendment discriminated against transgender students.
“I want to talk to you a little bit about history because I’ve lived through the separate but equal period,” Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, told the floor in a passionate speech against the amendment. “I can tell you separate restrooms for transgender kids are also based on fear, not fact.”
But Paddie, who had briefed colleagues on the amendment before filing it, said the amendment was meant to provide guidance on the issue.
“It is an effort to provide definitive guidance…for all kids,” Paddie said.
He also refuted that it discriminated against transgender students, saying accommodations extend to all students. “It could be because you are transgender or you are shy. It could be because of bullying. This says they will accommodate the child. This is not about a class of children or transgender children,” Paddie said, adding that the language prevents a school from disclosing intimate details about a student.
“For those who care about unfunded mandates, if a school district or open enrollment [faces a lawsuit], it requires the state attorney general to defend them,” Paddie said.
But the arguments were not enough for Democrats.
“The bill is about emergencies and disasters. Where is the disaster?” asked Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso.
Other Democrats attempted to amend it unsuccessfully.
Yet after heated debate, and despite early opposition from some Republicans like Dallas’ Jason Villalba, the amendment ultimately passed 91-50, with only one Republican, Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, voting against it.
Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, who is also an out lesbian, condemned the amendment.
“This amendment was more about using trans kids as a negotiating tool at a contentious point in the session than about making kids safer. It paints a target on the backs of already vulnerable children. We are getting rolled by the Senate, and transgender children are a part of that bargain. Texas is better than what the House did tonight,” Israel said in a statement.
That stood in contrast to a statement released by Republican Speaker of the House Joe Straus’s office, which sought to strike a deal with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on the so-called bathroom bill that died in the House State Affairs committee. Passing this amendment would avoid a special session to pass a more dangerous version of the bill.
“Representative Paddie’s amendment will allow schools to continue to handle sensitive issues as they have been handling them. I believe this amendment will allow us to avoid the severely negative impact of Senate Bill 6,” Straus said in a statement, referring to the contentious so-called “bathroom bill.”
“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. 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,” Strauss said.