Dan Patrick’s ‘Bathroom Bill’ Is Already Stinking Up the 85th Legislature

With the session underway and its text on the table, SB 6 has come under a microscope and is being met with intense, well-organized opposition.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick walks past pro-LGBT protesters Tuesday inside the Fort Worth ISD Administration Building. He hosted a press conference where he spoke against the district’s new guidelines protecting transgender students, which he said could be used as a springboard to further advance his conservative "school choice" plan.
Dan Patrick walks past pro-LGBT protesters inside the Fort Worth ISD Administration Building in April. There, he spoke against the district’s new guidelines protecting transgender students.  John Wright

When Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick unveiled an anti-transgender bathroom bill last week, he predicted a “tough fight.”

If Day 2 of the 2017 legislative session was any indication, it may have been an understatement.

Under cross-examination about Senate Bill 6 from the Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith on Wednesday morning, Patrick was put on the defensive and appeared to stumble.

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Hours later, what amounted to a miniature version of the bill — a rules amendment that would have applied only to restrooms at the Capitol — died unceremoniously on the House floor, thanks to opposition from a Republican member of Speaker Joe Straus’ leadership team.   

Then, on Wednesday afternoon, a group of convention and business leaders from across the state and nation gathered on the Capitol’s south steps to unveil a new coalition opposing the bill, warning of dire economic consequences if it passes.

Phillip Jones, CEO of the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, speaks at the Capitol on Wednesday during the kickoff for “Texas Welcomes All,” a new coalition opposed to Senate Bill 6.  John Wright

The concerns raised by members of “Texas Welcomes All” — who say numerous trade groups are already threatening to pull out of the state — directly contradicted the lieutenant governor’s repeated, ongoing assertion that SB 6 would have little, if any, fiscal fallout.

During a lively exchange with Smith, Patrick dismissed as “totally bogus” a recent study from the Texas Association of Business, which determined SB 6 could cost the state up to $8.5 billion and 185,000 jobs. He also maintained that a similar law has had “no effect” on North Carolina’s economy, despite widespread reports that it’s resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in losses.

Accusing LGBT advocates of “lying” about the bathroom bill, Patrick insisted it isn’t discriminatory and denied he’s a “homophobe” even though, among other things, he once said God spoke through a reality TV star who equated gay sex with bestiality.

Patrick added Wednesday morning that the only people opposed to SB 6 are “anglo liberals, and many of them work in the media.” But he also seemed to concede a major logical fallacy behind the bill, which is ostensibly designed to prevent sexual predators from entering women’s bathrooms by pretending to be trans and taking advantage of nondiscrimination laws.

SB 6 would restrict restroom access according to birth certificates, in public schools and government buildings, but it contains exemptions for custodians, maintenance workers, paramedics and others. One audience member asked Patrick what would prevent sexual predators, under the bill, from disguising themselves as janitors.

“People can always pretend to be someone they’re not to commit a crime, obviously,” Patrick responded, inadvertently acknowledging that neither SB 6 nor any other law would be likely to stop them.

Until now, Patrick has been free to grandstand about his anti-trans bathroom campaign, and raise money off it, with relatively little scrutiny of his unsubstantiated claims. But with the session underway and its text on the table, SB 6, carried by state Senator Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, has come under a microscope and is being met with intense, well-organized opposition.

Six days after introducing the bill, although he continued to vigorously defend it, even Patrick seemed a bit daunted by the national outcry. He told Smith the measure is just one of his 25 legislative priorities, attempting to downplay its importance to him.

During a subsequent speech at a conservative think tank convention Wednesday, he barely mentioned the bathroom bill other than to joke about the media’s preoccupation with it.

On that point, though perhaps none other concerning SB 6, Patrick is correct. The bill has dominated everything from headlines to Twitter mentions, and if it was intended as a distraction from weightier issues facing the Legislature, no doubt it’s working.

Forty-eight hours into the 140-day biennial session, potty politics are already stinking up the place. But even if Patrick wanted to abandon the bathroom bill, politically it’s far too late, so we might as well get used to the stench.  

John Wright is a freelance journalist based in Austin. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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Published at 11:37 am CST
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