By James Russell
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s staff urged the chairman of the powerful House State Affairs Committee not to pass the so-called bathroom bill last session despite declaring support for it.
Outgoing State Affairs Chairman Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, revealed the governor’s behind-the-scenes maneuvering in an interim report released today by the House Select Committee on Economic Competitiveness.
The bill limiting access to bathrooms and changing rooms in public facilities based on sex and not gender was a divisive issue during last year’s legislative session, pitting the hard-right state Senate against the more business-friendly House, both of which are dominated by Republicans.
After the bill failed to even get a floor vote in the House, Abbott called a special session that included the bill among the must pass-items that were overlooked during regular session. He continually expressed public support for the bathroom bill as well, which pitted him against business leaders, activists and many prominent Republicans.
Speaker of the House Joe Straus, who is retiring, formed the bipartisan House Select Committee on Economic Competitiveness to examine how Texas can remain a competitive economic force in a changing global economy.
During two meetings last year, the committee invited 42 business, non-profit, law enforcement and educational executives to tout Texas’ strengths and highlight vulnerabilities. The report provides solutions ahead of the 86th Legislature to address challenges such as inadequate school funding, workforce training and outdated infrastructure.
The report underscores the importance of the legislature avoiding unnecessary distractions, such as manufactured social issues that are unreasonable, unenforceable and harmful to the economy.
“Businesses ultimately became involved in the fight against the divisive and pointless legislation known as the ‘bathroom bill’ when the governor called lawmakers back for a special session and made it a top priority. His actions surprised many because the governor’s top aides had made it clear, to me and others, during the regular legislative session that the governor did not want that bill on his desk,” Cook said.
Businesses are also concerned about the revival of the bathroom bill next session, especially given the passage of a Republican ballot proposition last week.
Partisan propositions are non-binding. With almost 90 percent of Republican Primary voters in favor of the proposition, which only called for protecting women and girls in bathrooms, the bill is all but certain to return next session.
While Straus receives credit for halting the bill’s passage, Cook deserves credit as chairman of the state affairs committee, which heard the bill.
“Hopefully if this nonsensical legislation is proposed again, House members and the business community will do what is in the best interest for all Texans,” Cook said.
To prevent its resurrection, Cook suggested state officials should condemn the bill.
“Unless and until this public commitment is made by the governor, the 86th Legislature may be distracted from addressing issues important to taxpayers that could make Texas even greater — matters such as property taxes, education and the state budget,” Cook said.