In Passing ‘Bathroom Bill,’ Joe Straus’ House ‘Rolled’ By Dan Patrick

“We are being rolled by the Senate, and trans children are part of that bargain,” said Representative Celia Israel.

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio  Sam DeGrave

In the final days of the 85th Texas Legislature, the House bent to the will of Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick by approving a version of the anti-transgender bathroom legislation that has drawn fierce opposition from civil rights advocates.

With legislative deadlines looming — and GOP primary voters and Patrick breathing down their necks — House members voted largely along party lines Sunday night to attach the legislation to Senate Bill 2078, a school-safety measure. The newest version of the “bathroom bill,” authored by Representative Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, would prohibit transgender students in K–12 schools from using bathrooms matching their gender identities and require schools to provide “single-occupancy” restrooms.

Some lawmakers, including previous “bathroom bill” opponent House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, viewed the language as a favorable compromise because it doesn’t include all public bathrooms, as did earlier iterations of the anti-transgender legislation.

“I believe this amendment will allow us to avoid the severely negative impact of Senate Bill 6,” Straus wrote in a statement Sunday night. The bill “allow schools to continue to handle sensitive issues as they have been handling them,” he said.

State Representatives Jason Villalba, R-Dallas (right), and Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, discuss the “bathroom bill” amendment.

Only hours before voting for the legislation, Representative Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, tweeted that he would oppose “any amendment” to SB 2078 because “discrimination is not a Texas value.” Villalba changed his mind, saying the language was “an attempt to find middle ground.”

Democrats, who voted together — along with lone Republican Sarah Davis, R-West University Place — against the “bathroom bill,” weren’t swayed.

“Where’s the middle ground on discrimination, representative?” Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, fired back.

Some Democrats, including Representative Celia Israel of Austin, said that the proposal is better than previous versions. But like Canales, they weren’t willing to support a compromise that they argued still discriminates against transgender people, who face high rates of sexual assault and suicide.

Representative Joe Moody, D-El Paso, said during debate that “13 percent of kids who are transgender are sexually assaulted during their school years because of their identity.” According to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, 41 percent of transgender people attempt suicide, a much higher rate than the US average of 4.6 percent.

For months, Straus and his lieutenants stymied anti-trans legislation. SB 6, the original “bathroom bill,” sailed through the Senate only to die in the House where it never received a committee assignment. House Bill 2899, another ill-fated attempt to tell transgender people where they can go to the restroom, died in the House State Affairs Committee where it was heard but never voted on.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick  Sam DeGrave

But in an 11th-hour power move, Patrick threatened to force a special session if the House didn’t pass some version of the “bathroom bill.” The language that passed Sunday night seems to be Straus’ attempt at bowing to Patrick without passing something as radical as Senate Bill 6, which would have nullified several cities non-discrimination ordinances. Whether it will appease the lieutenant governor remains to be seen.

The House’s newfound interest in anti-trans bathroom legislation might also be the byproduct of budget compromise between the House and the Senate.

For most of the session, the chambers disagreed vehemently about using the Rainy Day Fund. The House recommended tapping the state’s savings account to balance the budget; the Senate opposed. Late Saturday night, the two legislative bodies reached an agreement that included pulling $1 billion from the often-controversial fund.

“It seems to me the budget agreement was done with this in mind,” Israel said speaking against Paddie’s amendment. “We are being rolled by the Senate, and trans children are part of that bargain.”

Now, SB 2078 will likely receive final approval in the House Monday and be sent back to the far-right-dominated Senate for approval or additional amendments before heading to Governor Greg Abbott.

Straus believes the compromise is acceptable: “Governor 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.”

Sam DeGrave is a legislative fellow based out of Austin. Before moving to Texas, he worked as a reporter in Juneau, Alaska.

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Published at 11:48 pm CST
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