Texas House Speaker Joe Straus and some of his lieutenants have been promoting the idea that the House is where bathroom bills come to die. But on Tuesday, social conservative Republicans are expected to try to breathe some life into the controversial issue by adding an amendment to the legislation extending the life of the state agency that regulates oil and gas.
No, the Texas Railroad Commission would not suddenly become the regulator of intra-state bodily emissions pipelines. The amendment merely would require the agency to restrict gender access to restrooms under its control to the gender listed on a person’s birth certificate. (UPDATE: Straus ruled the amendment was not germane to the bill and would not allow the House to debate it.)
Since the start of the legislative session, Straus has been signaling that the House is unlikely to debate Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s Senate Bill 6 that would limit bathroom access in all government buildings by the gender on a person’s birth certificate. In an interview last Friday with University of Texas political science professor James Henson, Straus called the bill “contrived” and said there was “no fervor” for it in the House, though he admitted it might pass if it was pushed on the members. Straus went on to say he personally opposes the bill. “Count me as a no.”
Many major businesses and the LGBT community oppose the bill as discriminatory against transgender persons. The Senate two weeks ago approved what its sponsors are calling the Texas Privacy Act by a 21-10 margin.
Patrick and state Senator Lois Kolkhorst, the bill’s author, have said they were joining with conservative Christian groups to pressure the House for a vote on the bill. So far the chorus has been silent, leaving open the possibility that the Senate legislation will just languish in the House State Affairs Committee.
Similar legislation in North Carolina caused some businesses to cancel expansion plans, and professional and college sports associations cancelled playoff games in the state. A new study by the Associated Press estimates North Carolina will lose more than $3.7 billion in economic activity over the next dozen years because of boycotts over the law.
What may occur in the House Tuesday is more than just a version of bathroom bill fight. State Representative Matt Schaefer of Tyler told me that an amendment to the Railroad Commission bill is intended to put the SB 6 regulations into place, even if only with one state agency. There is a high likelihood that the amendment will be killed on a point of order that it is not germane to the purpose of the larger bill. But if it goes to a vote, the amendment would be a test of House sentiment on the bathroom bill, but also a vote that social conservatives could use against moderate Republicans in next year’s GOP primaries.
Several Republicans told me that the House GOP caucus has mixed feelings about whether they want the full bathroom bill to come to the floor for debate but even those who support it do not want it to be one of the first major issues they tackle. Republican Caucus Chair Tan Parker of Flower Mound said he hasn’t tried to get a sentiment of the caucus because he is concentrating first on the state budget.
Even if the amendment to the Railroad Commission bill fails, social conservatives may try to attach the bathroom bill—or some version of it—as an amendment to other pieces of legislation later in the session. The future of SB 6 in the House may not look especially bright at the moment, but the transgender bathroom issue isn’t going away anytime soon.