‘Bathroom bill’ filed, aimed at transgender people

Gender neutral bathroom (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is introducing Senate Bill 6, Woman’s Privacy Act, on Thursday that could become Texas’ version of a “bathroom bill.”

“A majority of Texans in both political parties and in every ethnic and demographic group believe that women and girls should have privacy and safety in their restrooms, showers and locker rooms,” said Patrick in 2016.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, is authoring SB 6, which would ban transgender people from using the bathroom of the gender they identify with. The Texas Association of Business opposes the ban, saying it could cost Texas businesses $8 billion in revenue.

“The message from the Texas business community is loud and clear,” Chris Wallace, president of the Texas Association of Business. “Protecting Texas from billions of dollars in losses is simple: Don’t pass unnecessary laws that discriminate against Texans and our visitors.”

During the announcement, Patrick said the bill will protect businesses from government interference. “They will have the freedom to decide their policies and no government will tell business what their bathroom policy or locker room policy if it applies or shower policy if it applies,” said Patrick.

Sen. Kolkhorst says the bill will also address situations at schools and government buildings. “The bill requires that each dressing room, locker room and restroom be designated for use by the people according to their biological sex,” said Kolkhorst. “The bill also allows school districts to make accommodations or upon request for those preferring an alternative arrangement.”

The bill will also enhance the penalties for a series of existing crimes when those crimes are committed in a public dressing room, shower, restroom or changing facility.

On Dec. 31, a federal judge in Texas ordered a halt to President Barack Obama’s efforts to strengthen transgender rights. Conservatives say health rules could force doctors to violate their religious beliefs. U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor blocked the federal directive that required public schools to let transgender students use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity.

Protestors shout "shame! Shame!" Outside of press conference on Texas Privacy Act, "bathroom bill" proposed by Lt. Governor Dan Patrick (KXAN Photo)
Protestors shout “shame! Shame!” Outside of press conference on Texas Privacy Act, “bathroom bill” proposed by Lt. Governor Dan Patrick (KXAN Photo)

Several big sporting and entertainment events pulled out of North Carolina after a bathroom bill was passed in the state. If lawmakers in Texas move forward with similar legislation, a study conducted by St. Edward’s University found that it could cost the state large amounts of money from tourism.

“After having watched the debacle in North Carolina, it is shocking that the Lieutenant Governor would be so intent on pursuing SB6. It’s unnecessary, discriminatory and inconsistent with the constitutional value of equal protection for all. And that’s to say nothing of the havoc it will wreak on the Texas economy should it pass. Make no mistake — the invidious intent of SB6 is to deny transgender Texans the ability to participate in public life,” said Rebecca L. Robertson, director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Austin City Council members weigh in on bathroom bill 

Several city council members told KXAN they don’t want the state interfering with city rules, saying the state legislature should be focusing on bigger issues.

“I’m the first openly gay man to serve on Austin City Council,” Council Member-elect Jimmy Flannigan said. As an incoming member, he knows there’s a long list of big issues to tackle, one he says bathrooms shouldn’t even be on. And yet it appears to be near the top for Patrick.

“There’s only so much work that the legislature’s going to be able to do and yet this is a priority for the Lt. Governor?” Flannigan said. “Why aren’t we addressing education funding? Why aren’t we addressing the traffic problem? Why are we addressing critical issues like health and human services? Why aren’t we even addressing tax reform?”

In Austin, an ordinance was passed in 2014 requiring all businesses with single-use restrooms to be gender-neutral.

“Austin adopted a policy that works well for Austin and that supports our intent to be a community that is inclusive and welcoming both to tourists and to residents. And so it’s my great hope that Austin’s policy will remain intact and that our state legislature will turn their sights elsewhere,” Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo said.

If passed, the bill would strip the city of its power, allowing businesses to make their own decisions.

Council Member Greg Casar isn’t buying the idea that the bathroom bill aims to protect women and children.

“The government of the state of Texas has big issues that they need to be tackling and if Dan Patrick were really concerned with the safety of children, they should be prioritizing what’s happening at child protective services,” Casar said, also mentioning the need to examine healthcare and funding for the state’s education system.

“It’s really unfortunate to see them throw out a piece of red meat like this and try to essentially have a witch hunt against bathrooms,” Casar said. “The state, instead of addressing problems, is continuously interfering and getting in the way of the city trying to clean up the mess that oftentimes left to us by the state.”

Flannigan said, “Newsflash to the lieutenant governor: transgender are already using the bathroom of their gender identity and it is not causing anyone any problems.”

But the bill is clearly creating waves of its own.

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