Anti-transgender legislation is still a threat as Texas considers a special session

The pressure’s on if a special session is called.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) handing Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) a pen after a bill signing last week. CREDIT: AP Photo/Eric Gay
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) handing Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) a pen after a bill signing last week. CREDIT: AP Photo/Eric Gay

The Texas legislative session came to a close on Monday — before state lawmakers successfully passed any of the various anti-transgender bills they were considering. But that doesn’t mean the fight is over. Lawmakers could still get another chance to advance legislation aimed at restricting the rights of the LGBTQ community.

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) promised Monday at a press conference that he’ll make an announcement “later this week” about whether he would call a special session to bring lawmakers back to consider more legislation. In particular, Abbott said his “biggest disappointment” this year is that the “sunset bill” didn’t pass, referring to legislation that provides critical funding that several state agencies will need in order to remain operating.

If Abbott wants to give lawmakers more time to consider the sunset bill, the fight over legislation regulating which bathroom facilities transgender people can use might also resurface.

That’s because Lt. Gov Dan Patrick (R), who presides over the Senate, might hold the sunset bill hostage over the “bathroom bill” (SB6) he wants. In fact, that’s exactly what he threatened to do earlier this month when squaring off with House Speaker Joe Straus (R), who blocked SB6 from advancing.

Only Abbott can call a special session. He can also dictate exactly what legislation the special session will allow for — which puts him in a politically interesting situation. If he doesn’t call a special session or limits the session only to the sunset bill, he could outrage Patrick and conservative activists.

When asked at the press conference how much pressure he was feeling from Patrick to call the special session, Abbott said, “None.”

If Abbott isn’t specific about which bathroom regulations to pass in a special session, it could revive the contention between the House and the Senate.

This session, the Senate passed SB6, a broad sweeping bill overturning local LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections and restricting transgender people’s bathroom use in all public spaces. The House countered with an amendment to SB 2078, a school emergency preparedness bill, that restricted the bathroom usage of transgender students in public schools — an approach that Patrick believed to be too narrow. It’s still unclear whether lawmakers will be able to agree on either approach if called to do so by Abbott.

Adding to the contention over potential anti-trans legislation, several major tech companies chimed in late last week to indicate their opposition to any new anti-LGBTQ bills in Texas.

A letter addressed to Abbot from the CEOs of Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon HP, Dell, and others indicated that discriminatory laws would negatively affect their “ability to attract, recruit, and retain top talent; encourage new business relocations, expansions, and investment; and maintain our economic competitiveness.” The companies note they are “large employers in the state,” and Dell, in particular, is headquartered in Texas.

It’s unclear how much the tech companies’ pressure will impact the debate. At the very least, it seems unlikely to convince Abbott to veto any such measure, given he’s called bathroom legislation one of his highest priorities.

Activists on the ground have been concerned that there hasn’t been much national outcry about the kinds of bills Texas has been considering, likely because national news has overshadowed the debate more than when similar controversies emerged in North Carolina, Indiana, and Arizona in recent years. If the anti-transgender bills return, the tech companies’ letter could signal more reaction from other corporations and organizations that do business in Texas.