Retiring Texas Republicans blast anti-trans bill on their way out the door

The legislation seems poised to return in 2019.

Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick (R), who championed the anti-trans bill, and House Speaker Joe Straus (R), who blocked it. CREDIT: Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Corbis via Getty Images
Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick (R), who championed the anti-trans bill, and House Speaker Joe Straus (R), who blocked it. CREDIT: Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Corbis via Getty Images

The Texas legislature only convenes in odd-number years, but lawmakers are still finding other ways to debate the anti-trans legislation that failed to pass last year known as SB6.

A new report out of the Texas House Select Committee on Economic Competitiveness skewers the so-called “bathroom bill” even as conservatives seem poised to resurrect it in 2019. Texas’ business community, the report states, “was seriously threatened during the 85th Legislature when legislation known as the ‘bathroom bill’ became a major priority for first the lieutenant governor and then the governor.” According to the report, SB6 was an “unnecessary” social priority based on flawed arguments:

Although this legislation was touted by its proponents as necessary for protecting the “privacy and safety” of women and children, law enforcement testified that there were already laws on the books to protect women and children from any crime that could possibly occur in any restroom. Moreover, the legislation only applied to government buildings. If the proposed law was so necessary to “protect women and children,” why would it not also apply to all public restrooms? If passed, would that have meant that women and children were not safe using non-government restrooms and why would that be acceptable?

Even though the bill failed to pass, the fact it was pushed — including in a special session after the regular session had adjourned — might be enough to scare off companies such as Amazon from relocating to Texas. The report calls on state leaders to publicly state that it will not be considered again, given that Austin and Dallas are among the finalists for Amazon’s HQ2.

The report also notes that consideration of SB6 prompted at least three groups to cancel their conventions in Texas, resulting in a loss of $66 million in economic activity.

Outgoing House Speaker Joe Straus (R), who helped keep the bill from passing, picked the economic committee members after the special session ended, appointing state Rep. Byron Cook (R) to chair it. Both are retiring at the end of their terms this year.

Cook offered up his own bombshell about the anti-trans bill in coordination with the report’s release: despite his public support for SB6, Cook revealed, Gov. Greg Abbott’s top aides were insisting behind the scenes that the bill should fail during the regular session. Cook called it a “loud and clear message.” (Abbott seemingly flipped at some point, adding the bill as a priority for the special session.)

“I can tell you that in the regular session, they said they did not want this bill on the governor’s desk,” Cook told the American-Statesman. “Why that would’ve been added to the special session, I can’t speak to that.”

Abbott’s office has not responded to inquiries about Cook’s comments.

Despite the bill’s failure, Republican leadership in the state seems poised to bring it back in 2019. Voters in the Republican primary earlier this month responded positively to a ballot proposition that echoed the language in SB6, asking whether Texas “should protect the privacy and safety of women and children in spaces such as bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers in all Texas schools and government buildings.” More than 90 percent of voters responded “Yes.”

The issue is a polarizing one: on their primary ballot, Texas Democrats asked voters whether all residents should be “free from discrimination and harassment anywhere…no matter how they identify.” Ninety-seven percent of voters agreed.