Hundreds sign up to speak on Texas’ new ‘bathroom bill’

FILE - Bathroom sign (Nexstar File Photo)
FILE - Bathroom sign (Nexstar File Photo)

AUSTIN (NEXSTAR) — State representatives are prepared to pull an all-nighter at the Capitol Wednesday with hundreds of people signed up to speak on the House’s version of a so-called bathroom bill.

House Bill 2899 would ban cities from adopting non-discrimination ordinances that apply to public restrooms.

Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, said the latest version of his bill would only apply to policies on multiple occupancy bathrooms, showers and changing rooms.

“It’s a very narrow bill,” Simmons said. While some consider the changes to the bill to be an improvement, critics believe the proposal still discriminates against transgender Texans

HB 2899 would also nullify existing non-discrimination at the local level that are, so far, only in three cities — Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio.

Civil liberties groups pointed out the law would still apply to school public districts across the state. Rachel Gonzales fears the bill, also known as the ‘Texas Protection Act,’ could put her transgender daughter in harm’s way, and make Libby a target for discrimination.

“Her school would be stripped of any ability to protect her,” Gonzales said. The biological sex on Libby’s birth certificate says “boy’ but that does not match the 7-year-old’s gender identify.

Libby’s started to transition in January of 2016 and now the first grader wears dresses to her public school in Dallas.

“She’s a normal little girl, just living a normal little girl’s life,” Gonzales said. Gonzales said her child has never had an issue in the girls’ bathroom at school. “We’ve never had an issue with acceptance,” she added.

Libby played with the pink bow in her hair while her mom spoke ahead of Wednesday’s hearing. “They’re putting her life at risk on a daily basis by suggesting we pass this legislation,” Gonzalez said. “HB 28-99 would remove my daughter’s school’s ability to keep her safe.”

If passed, the legal and policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, Rebecca Robertson, said the bill would put many Texas public schools “between a rock and a hard place.”

If a transgender student feels discriminated against because of bathroom access at a public school, that could be a lawsuit. And if the school makes changes to accommodate that student, the Texas Attorney General could take legal action against the school.

“We either treat everyone in Texas equally or we don’t. There is no middle ground on that,” said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network. Critics said the bill is about discrimination, not protection or privacy.

“We are putting privacy, privacy protection above everything,” Rep. Simmons said. “I understand everybody won’t be happy with it, but sometimes that’s the definition of a good bill if nobody is 100 percent happy.”
House Speaker Joe Straus has spoken out against so-called bathroom bills. Gov. Greg Abbott announced his support for HB 2899 and Senate Bill 6, the higher chamber’s version of a bathroom bill Tuesday.

“It’s a statewide issue because it affects every Texan either indirectly or directly,” Simmons said. That’s why he believes consistency, one law for all of Texas, is another reason the bill is necessary.

Simmons said he wrote the bill in response to concerns he’s heard from some of the people he represents.

“About the unintended consequences might be about opening up restrooms to whoever felt like they felt for a particular time,” Simmons explained.

The House Committee on State Affairs is scheduled to hear public testimony as soon as the low-chamber adjourns for the day.

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