Texas House gatekeeper likely won’t hold another hearing on ‘bathroom bill’

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

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A key lawmaker to any statewide legislation tells KXAN he likely won’t hold a special session hearing on the controversial bill known as the “bathroom bill,” which could be the death knell for the bill this year.

House Chair of the State Affairs Committee and State Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, said he heard enough in an all night, emotional hearing on the issue during the regular session. The bill must pass his committee to become law and he has not yet called a vote.

“Quite candidly, at this point I don’t know what a hearing would add when we already had hearings,” said Rep. Cook.

The law would require Texans to use bathrooms in some public buildings based on their gender at birth and override many city ordinances created to protect transgender Texans from bathroom discrimination. It passed the Texas Senate, spearheaded by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, both in the regular and special session. Leaders in the Texas House of Representatives have been opposed to the idea, saying it distracts from other issues.

“I’m not sure that the legislation… that’s been proposed accomplishes anything that would be beneficial to the state of Texas,” said Rep. Cook. “It seems to be a diversion from the real issues that Texans face.”

Rep. Cook says holding another hearing would divert press, public opinion and attention from priorities of the Texas House; overhauling school finance, property tax reform and reversing controversial cuts to child therapy through Medicaid. Rep. Cook says he’s asking Gov. Abbott to add child therapy to the special session call.

“This is not an issue that rises to the level that we should be distracted from much more important issues,” said Cook.

Last week the Texas House voted to restore the child therapy cuts and KXAN asked Abbott if he would add the item to the call.

“Oh absolutely, I made very clear that there are other items I will add to the call once the legislature passes all 20 items on the special session agenda,” said Abbott. One of those items is the bathroom privacy issue.

Business leaders from tech giants to oil executives oppose any notion of a bathroom bill and recently have sent letters to lawmakers saying it would put future jobs and billions of dollars at risk. Police chiefs from the state’s major cities say it would make Texas less safe.

That message has resonated with the House members and House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, the man who appointed Rep. Cook to chair the State Affairs Committee.

Speaker Straus was Lt. Gov. Patrick’s chief foe in a regular session showdown over the “bathroom bill.” That disagreement led Patrick to take a “must-pass” bill hostage that continued the regulation of medicine in the state. That hostage forced Gov. Abbott to call a 30-day special session and he charged lawmakers to pass a bathroom privacy bill.

“This is an issue, especially for Republican voters, this is a big, big issue,” said Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, author of the House’s version of the bathroom privacy bill.

He respects Chairman Cook’s decision to not hold another hearing on the issue but hopes it will be included in a last minute deal with Straus, Patrick and Abbott.

“There’s still a lot of things we have to get done and this is just one of them,” said Rep. Simmons. “The privacy and the protection of our wives and daughter is very important. I don’t know how you could say something is more important than that.”

Simmons acknowledges if no deal is made, it will likely become a campaign issue when lawmakers return in 2019.

Advocates with the Christian conservative group Texas Values were upset with Cook’s decision saying through a statement that it will, “force Texas girls to share their showers, locker rooms, and bathrooms with boys,” spokesperson Nicole Hudgens said.

With less than nine days left in the special session, civil rights groups, police departments and a vast array of business groups continue to back the Texas House leadership team in stopping any bathroom privacy bill from becoming reality.

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