AUSTIN - At 8:00 a.m. Tuesday, the members of the Senate Committee of State Affairs settled in for a long hearing.
"For me, at the core of this bill is privacy," said Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) as she addressed her colleagues.
The Committee is hearing Senate Bill 6 (SB6), the bathroom bill. It will require people go by the sex on their current birth certificate when using restrooms, showers and locker rooms in state facilities and public schools and universities.
Senators spent 90 minutes listening to Kolkhorst lay out the bill and questioning her on the content and intention.
Kolkhorst said the intent of the bill is to protect women from men who would enter the restroom, simply because they can and also to address the issue of which areas students can use in schools.
"I'm proud to offer this bill to try to strike a balance to protect, defend and give a dignified way as how we move forward," Kolkhorst said.
The senators heard invited testimony from a 10-year-old girl who attends school in Dripping Springs ISD, which allows transgender students to use restrooms in accordance with their gender identity.
"I felt very, very uncomfortable knowing a boy could come into the restroom with me. The restroom is a private place and I'd like to keep it that way," the child told the senators.
But opponents say the bill isn't about privacy.
"It seems to me that we have a bill here that is clearly discriminating based on gender," said Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso).
Rodriguez noted assaulting people in restrooms is already against the law and said there are not widespread cases of women being assaulted in restrooms.
On the contrary, he said he has transgender constituents who have been assaulted when going into restrooms based on their birth sex.
Rodriguez isn't the only one who feels that way. As the hearing continued, Equality Texas held a rally opposing the bathroom bill outside the hearing room in the rotunda.
"This bill targets trans people and seeks to take them out of participation in public life and that my friend is discrimination," said Chuck Smith, Executive Director of Equality Texas.
"These senators, these legislators are slapping a huge target on the back of my 7-year-old daughter," said one parent to the crowd.
A North Carolina business owner said the bill also puts a target on the Texas economy.
"We've also lost thousands of jobs. Amazon, Paypal, Deutsche Bank all withdrew their expansions in North Carolina," she said.
North Carolina was the first state to pass a bathroom bill. The business owner's comments are a stark contrast to the testimony North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest gave during the hearing.
He told Texas lawmakers the North Carolina economy is booming and the losses equal one-tenth of one percent of the state's annual GDP. He went on to say the state has added 67,000 jobs since the bill passed and that no businesses have left the state as a result.
Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) pushed back after that comment, reading a list of the companies that have cut ties with North Carolina and reported financial losses due to the state's bathroom bill.
Garcia also questioned Kolkhorst on the intent and language of the bill.
"If the intent is to try to keep people of the opposite sex, entering the bathroom of the opposite sex, why doesn't the bill just say that and not reference biological birth certificates," Garcia said.
Kolkhorst said she worded it that way mostly to give some certainty to parents who don't want children of the opposite sex using the restroom with their children.
Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), who chairs the Committee on State Affairs, also expressed some approval of the bill. noting it aims to also protect children not exposed to or too young to understand the concept of gender identity.
"When I look at your bill, you know, I'm looking at children like that who also should have some protections as to how early they are exposed to difficult situations," Huffman said.
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick held a news conference to again express his support of the bill. He said he expects the committee to pass the bill tonight, or in the overnight hours, and for it to pass the Senate next week.
However, the bill will have a tougher sell in the House.
"Clearly I'm not a fan of the bill that they're discussing in the Senate today, committee today," said House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), "but I'm focused 100-percent on the House's priorities. They have their agenda and we have ours. And we'll worry about our agenda."
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