Republicans introduce restroom usage bill in Texas
Transgenderism | Conservatives counter Democratic forecasts of economic doom
by Bonnie Pritchett
Posted 1/06/17, 05:08 pm
Texas lawmakers joined the national debate over bathroom usage with the introduction of the Texas Privacy Act, a bill about restroom and locker room usage. The measure would establish a uniform code of compliance for public buildings across the state but leave private business owners free to act in accordance with their consciences in establishing their own restroom policies. The bill comes on the heels of a debate in North Carolina over similar legislation that withstood a December repeal challenge.
The bill’s author, Republican Sen. Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham, said Thursday she did not start the controversy over public restroom usage, but she intends to end it. Statewide legislation establishing a uniform code of usage has long been championed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick who, with Kolkhorst, introduced Senate Bill 6 during a press conference Thursday at the Texas Capitol in Austin.
Patrick cited the resounding defeat of Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance in 2015 as evidence of Texans’ stance on the issue. Kolkhorst said President Barack Obama’s edict last May calling for all Title IX–funded schools to open their sex-segregated restrooms and locker rooms to transgender students and staff exacerbated an already tenuous situation that forced the legislature’s hand.
“The fight was brought to us,” Kolkhorst said. “I am filing this legislation not to start a controversy but to end one and give solutions to tough issues.”
Criticism of the legislation began before its contents were made public. Calling the bill “discriminatory and wholly unnecessary,” Chris Wallace, president of the Texas Association of Business (TAB), said in a press release that SB 6 “will needlessly jeopardize jobs, investment, innovation and tax revenue for our state, and it sullies our reputation as an open, inclusive, and welcoming state.”
TAB, which opposed all religious liberty and conscience protection legislation during the 2015 legislative session, cited a report it sponsored that concludes Texas could take an economic hit of $964 million to $8.5 billion and lose up to 185,000 jobs if the legislation passed.
The report’s title presupposes its conclusion: “The economic impact of discriminatory legislation on the state of Texas.”
It cites information from LGBT advocacy organizations in developing its forecast of Texas’ economic doom. The report’s dire conclusions, cited frequently by media and others opposed to the bill, are made by extrapolating “outcomes (actual and predicted) resulting from aggressive anti-LBGT legislation found in Arizona, Louisiana, and Indiana,” the report states.
Kolkhorst said the bill allows private businesses to establish their own restroom usage policies, unlike Houston’s city ordinance that was defeated by a 61-39 percent margin in 2015. That ordinance required all businesses and public buildings to open their restrooms and private changing facilities to individuals based on their gender identity. Violators faced criminal penalties.
While letting private businesses set their own codes, SB 6 requires local governments, public schools, and universities to “develop a policy requiring each multiple-occupancy bathroom or changing facility located in the building to be designated for and used only by persons of the same biological sex.”
Those governing agencies cannot stipulate that private businesses have certain restroom policies when awarding contracts.
The law allows accommodations for special circumstances, but those exceptions cannot include allowing a person to use a sex-segregated bathroom “opposite to the person’s biological sex.” Another exception allows private entities leasing public facilities like convention areas to establish restroom usage policies in accordance with the entity’s standards during the leasing period.
A civil penalty can be levied against public schools, state agencies, or local governments for violating the law.
North Carolina legislators passed a similar law in response to a Charlotte ordinance crafted much like Houston’s. The law, House Bill 2 (HB2), established a uniform code of restroom and locker room usage across the state while allowing private businesses to operate by their own standards.
Fallout from the passage of HB2 included the NCAA and Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) withdrawing their championship games. The NBA pulled its 2017 All-Star Game, and a few businesses, including Pay Pal, changed plans for moving to or expanding business in North Carolina.
Despite the national outcry and warnings of economic catastrophe, North Carolina ranked second in Forbes magazine’s 2016 “Best States for Business.” Citing that report and others, Jonathan Saenz, president of Texas Values, challenged TAB’s warnings of negative economic impact and noted states with strong religious freedom laws, not sexual orientation and gender identity laws, have stronger economies.
Patrick took the media to task for its critical assessment of the legislation that was not made public until after the Jan. 5 press conference.
“I’ve never seen so much misinformation, so much hand-wringing, so much fake news about a bill as this—a bill none of you have even seen,” Patrick told a room of reporters. “I’ve seen groups complain about things that aren’t in the bill.”
Democratic senators have countered Kolkhorst’s bill with Senate Bill 165, which attempts to establish statewide codes similar to the defeated Houston ordinance.
Dave Welch, who led the Houston Pastor Council in its fight against the city ordinance and was one of the five pastors whose sermons were subpoenaed by the city, said the legislation was long overdue.
“All Texans should have equal protection for basic freedoms and equal public safety, rather than leave such essential rights to be a confusing patchwork across the state as has been occurring in cities and school districts,” Welch said in a statement.
Bonnie reports on First Amendment freedoms for WORLD Digital.