‘Bathroom bill’ passes Senate committee in special session despite protest

FILE - Bathroom (KXAN File Photo)
FILE - Bathroom (KXAN File Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Gov. Greg Abbott gave new life to a bill about bathroom privacy by putting it on his special session call. It passed a Senate panel late Friday evening, eight to one.

The overwhelming majority of the 10-hour testimony was against the bill, but since lawmakers dealt with this issue from the regular session, many minds were already made up.

Senate Bill 3 is very similar to what was known as Senate Bill 6 during the regular session, only now it includes athletic participation and has a more limited scope on places where Texans must use a bathroom based on their birth certificate, nearly only public buildings.

Despite the hundreds of protesters and people who came to testify, like Kimberly Shappley, the votes are already known.

“I think too often we get in these bubbles that we live in,” said Shappley. She came to speak up for her transgender daughter, but the people she made her case to already made promises to their voters back home and stand on those promises.

“The majority isn’t always right, and that’s why we have laws in place that say you can’t discriminate,” said Shappley.

Jess Herbst, the transgender mayor of New Hope, Texas, said, “They had their mind made up when they came in here.” This is the third time she’s come this year to testify against the bill.

“I will be shocked if they don’t vote yes and pass this straight on. I’m fully expecting that, but I’m also expecting to be back here next week,” said Herbst.

Scott Braddock, editor of the quorumreport.com, says, “It won’t change any votes because the people the politicians are answering to are probably not in the building.” He’s sat through hundreds of committee hearings. He says despite the cries and tears Friday, lawmakers will do what will get them elected in a primary.

A poll by the Texas Tribune shows that more than 70 percent of Tea Party voters want this bill. That and it’s a pet issue of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who can make or break a candidate in a GOP primary.

“At the end of the day, these politicians are going to answer to people back home who put them in office,” said Braddock.

KXAN spoke to the author of the bill, State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, after the hearing and she says opponents are giving her valuable information.

“Sitting through the testimony and having emotional testimony is something that I think we have a duty to do and it certainly touches my heart,” said Sen. Kolkhorst, saying that opponents of bills are usually much louder than supporters, calling them the “silent majority.”

If opponents can’t stop the actions in the Senate they’ll look to the House. There, House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, has called the issue “disgusting” and worries it would lead to suicides in an already “vulnerable” population.

If not there, opponents will always look to the court system.

Supporters of this bill say they’re doing this in the name of public safety and this would-be law would make criminals think twice before committing a crime in a bathroom. Some people testified Friday to support the bill, saying they felt uncomfortable using the bathroom with a member of the opposite sex.

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