Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick on Thursday accused the media of spreading “fake news” about Texas’ anti-transgender bathroom bill, one of his top priorities for the 2017 legislative session.
“I’ve never seen so much misinformation, so much hand-wringing, so much fake news about a bill as this, a bill that none of you have even seen, none of the critics have even seen,” Patrick told reporters at the Capitol during a standing-room-only news conference to unveil the so-called Privacy Protection Act, also known as Senate Bill 6.
“At least today … I hope the fake news will stop on this issue,” he added.
Unfortunately for Patrick, most stories in anticipation of the filing of SB 6 turned out to be largely accurate, which isn’t surprising given that they were based on the lieutenant governor’s own statements. As state and national media outlets have been predicting for weeks, SB 6 roughly mirrors — with a few notable exceptions — North Carolina’s anti-LGBT House Bill 2, which has cost the Tarheel State hundreds of millions of dollars, and was partially responsible for Republican Governor Pat McCrory’s defeat in the November election.
“What’s fake here is the lieutenant governor’s phony justification for passing a deeply divisive and discriminatory bill,” Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller said in a statement, accusing Patrick of “political grandstanding” and adding that SB 6 “solves no real problem.”
“It’s hard to imagine something more crass and cruel than the state’s highest elected officials using fear-mongering to bully vulnerable kids and adults who simply want to use the restroom,” Miller said.
SB 6, authored by Senator Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, would nullify trans-inclusive nondiscrimination laws in several Texas cities, including Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth and San Antonio. It would also require the state’s school districts and political subdivisions to adopt policies requiring people to use restrooms and other facilities in government buildings that correspond with the sex listed on their birth certificate. Cities and school districts that fail to comply with the provisions of SB 6 would be subject to civil penalties of up to $10,500 per violation.
Ironically, Patrick began Thursday’s news conference by quoting the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. North Carolina’s HB2 is the subject of multiple lawsuits alleging it violates trans people’s civil rights.
“‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent on things that matter,’” Patrick said, quoting King. “This legislation … is unquestionably one of the things that matters.”
He cited voters’ decision to repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance in 2015 as justification for the legislation. LGBT advocates, meanwhile, have drawn a distinction between the defeat of a pro-LGBT municipal ordinance at the ballot box and the passage by legislators of a statewide anti-LGBT bill.
Patrick also dismissed the threat of economic backlash, pointing to a handout from the right-wing group Texas Values that suggested states without LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination laws are faring well economically. The handout didn’t mention that North Carolina is the only state with an anti-trans bathroom law. And the Texas Association of Business estimates that SB6 could cost the state’s economy up to $8.5 billion and 175,000 jobs.
“We know it’s going to be a tough fight,” Patrick said, possibly alluding to fierce business opposition and a potential uphill battle in the House, where Speaker Joe Straus has said SB 6 won’t be a priority.
“The forces of fear and misinformation will pull out all the stops, both in Texas and nationally,” Patrick said. “We will not respond to threats from the left-wing national groups that are demanding policies that make no sense and that Texans do not support.”
Patrick said Kolkhorst is qualified to carry the bill in part because she’s a former NCAA athlete. In response to North Carolina’s HB 2, the NCAA moved several championship events — including the men’s basketball Final Four (which is slated for San Antonio in 2018) — out of North Carolina.
Kolkhorst blamed the Obama administration for initiating the controversy that led to SB6, pointing to guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Education last May saying public schools should allow trans students to use restrooms based on their gender identity.
“It wasn’t that we brought this fight to the people, the fight was brought to us,” Kolkhorst said.
Asked about potential challenges to enforcing SB6, Kolkhorst said the state will not have “bathroom police,” adding that people who feel “uncomfortable” can report it. The bill states that citizens can file complaints with the Texas attorney general’s office against cities and school districts, but only after giving them written notice and three days to correct alleged violations.
As Kolkhorst was speaking, boos erupted from the Capitol breezeway outside, briefly drowning her out until multiple doors were shut. When Patrick and Kolkhorst cut short the news conference after fielding only three questions, the dozens of reporters assembled scurried to greet the protesters, who began shouting, “Shame, shame, shame.”
John Erler, who held a sign saying “Flush the Bill,” called SB 6 “immoral,” “impractical” and “embarrassing.”
“It makes us the laughingstock of the United States,” Erler said.
Another protester, Rich Hatch, said President-elect Donald Trump’s victory “showed that we need to start standing up.”
“If we can’t show it with our votes, we’ll show it with our voices,” he said.
Amy, who declined to give her last name, agreed that Trump’s victory took things to “a whole new level.”
“I feel like the Democrats and liberals are energized in a way they haven’t been, and they’re going to make their voices known in whatever way possible,” she said.