Despite opposition from Republican brass, bathroom brawlers refuse to let down

Schaefer.Matt

State Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, winks at state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, right, after Schaefer withdrew his proposed amendment regarding bathrooms at the Capitol in Austin, Texas, on Jan. 11, the second day of the 85th Legislature. Schaefer had proposed an amendment to House administration rules that would require people using bathrooms under the “jurisdiction of the House” to use the bathroom corresponding to their “biological sex.” Schaefer eventually withdrew that proposal, but this week tried to tack a “bathroom” amendment onto the Railroad Commission’s sunset review legislation. Speaker Joe Strauss, however, shot down that effort. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

 

James Russell  |  Contributing Writer
james.journo@gmail.com

Despite opposition from Republican brass, bathroom brawlers refuse to let down

James Russell  |  Contributing Writer
james.journo@gmail.com

Two remarkable things happened at the Texas Capitol this week.

On Tuesday, March 29, Speaker of the House Joe Straus, a Republican, prevented three pre-filed amendments by arch-conservative Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, from being heard on the floor. Schaefer’s amendments were among the 30 that lawmakers tried to attach to the Railroad Commission’s sunset review bill and included one requiring transgender men and women use public restrooms according to their biological sex and not their gender identity.

“The commission shall require that each multiple-occupancy bathroom or changing facility that is located in a building owned, leased or controlled by or otherwise under the authority of the commission be designated for and used only by persons of the same biological sex,” the amendment read.

It was almost identical to Senate Bill 6, which recently passed out of the Senate on a 21-10 vote, with the support of all Senate Republicans and one Democrat.

The bill passed the Senate despite overwhelming opposition from the business community, celebrities and groups like Texas Welcomes All, a coalition of tourism and convention leaders from across Texas. They cited evidence of the economic fallout in North Carolina after a similar bill, HB 2, passed there last year to explain their opposition.

According to data compiled by Texas Competes, a group of businesses who oppose anti-LGBT legislation, economic fallout from North Carolina’s similar law totals almost a billion dollars. A recent Associated Press report backed that claim.

Late Wednesday evening, legislators in North Carolina had reached a deal to repeal HB 2, but LGBT advocates opposed that deal, saying the measure repealing HB 2 still prevented local governments entities from passing statutes and ordinances protecting transgender people.

But opposition from the otherwise conservative business community apparently is of no concern to Schaefer and others, who have alternative motives. The amendment was a chance to get House members, including vulnerable Republicans, to vote on an issue that is a priority among social conservatives, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

But Straus refused to bring that amendment and others to the floor, saying they were not germane to the bill, prompting a tense exchange among Straus and Republicans Jonathan Stickland of Bedford, Briscoe Cain of Deer Park and Schaefer. When Schaefer asked if there is any guidance on when an amendment is germane, someone shouted, “When they’re not crazy!”

But the brawlers insist they will be back for more. And they’ll have plenty of opportunities, too, to continue their fight to segregate transgender people, including the Department of Transportation’s sunset review bill.

But when SB 6 might get a hearing in the House remains unknown. In fact, it has yet to even be assigned to a House committee.

It’s likely the bill will head to the House State Affairs Committee, chaired by Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, a Straus ally who has also expressed skepticism about the bill.

Cook narrowly won his 2016 Republican Primary election against an arch-conservative challenger. And his opponents have not let down this session. The pressure has been on Cook to hold hearings on bills, including a bill abolishing abortion even though Attorney General Ken Paxton has called the bill unconstitutional.

On Wednesday, March 29, the usually mild mannered Cook chastised a representative from Texas Values, an anti-LGBT organization.

The organization’s policy analyst, Nichole Hudgens, was speaking against two identical bills allowing access to contraception for unmarried children. And Cook had had enough.

“I’ve never seen you, session after session, bringing positive solutions,” Cook told Hudgens.

Later, he asked Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, if opponents of the bill, like Texas Values, offered to work with her to ease their concerns.

“Have they worked with you on the bill?” Cook asked.

“No,” Davis replied.

Equality Texas, the statewide LGBT advocacy organization, has listed 39 “supported” bills that have been introduced in this legislative session. Most of them would in some way prohibit discrimination against LGBT people or removed out-dated anti-LGBT laws — like the Texas sodomy law — from the books. One bill, introduced by Dallas Democratc Rafael Anchia, would require agencies providing HIV testing to give information regarding pre-exposure prophylaxis — PrEP — to those who test negative. (See related story on Page 13.)

Equality Texas lists 26 bills that would harm LGBT people and others, encouraging the community to take action against those measures. That includes SB 6, and SB 242, a measure introduced by Fort Worth Republican Konni Burton that opponents say would force school counselors to out LGBT students to their parents.

The Senate’s State Affairs Committee — the same committee that sent SB 2 to the floor for a vote — on Thursday held hearings on SB 522, a measure that would, according to Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller, “permit county officials and employees to refuse to issue marriage licenses to couples to whom they have personal religious objections.”

SB 522 is one of 15 so-called “religious refusal” bills introduced in this session of the Legislature.

“It’s awful enough that this bill clearly targets same-sex couples. But the bill is so broad it would also allow public officials to discriminate against virtually any

Texan,” Miller said in an email. “This bill makes a mockery of religious freedom by allowing public officials to discriminate against virtually anyone who fails to meet their personal moral standards. That could include same-sex couples but also people who have been previously divorced, couples who have lived together outside of marriage, interfaith couples and many others.

“Even worse, taxpayers would be forced to continue paying the salaries of these officials when they refuse to do their jobs and even discriminate against those very taxpayers.”

For Equality Texas’ full list of supported and opposed bills, visit EqualityTexas.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 31, 2017.