Lawmakers continue heated discussion over Texas' 'bathroom bill'

Is it an issue of public safety or local control?

AUSTIN - Just down the street from the Texas Capitol building, at the Austin Club, the Texas Tribune hosted a moderated discussion on the so called 'bathroom bill.'

State Representative Ron Simmons and Senator Sylvia Garcia sat down with a Texas Tribune moderator to discuss the so called bathroom bill.

Simmons proposed the House's version, which doesn't allow cities or schools to create a "protected class" over and above what state or federal law permits

"It's about an expectation of privacy," said Simmons. "We don't want to have forced upon our school aged children, to be able to have to use these same intimate facilities together, when they do have biological differences."

He said his bill would address the problems of public safety and local control, saying these types of decisions should be made at the state level.

"What I'm saying is time out, let's go back to how things were, you know, a year and a half ago, until we can figure it out at the state level," Simmons told the crowd.

But Garcia said the legislation would encourage discrimination.

"The bottom line here is that his bill actually saying y'all can discriminate because we're not going to let you say that you can't," said Garcia.

She filed her own bill that would allow people to use whichever restroom they identify with.

"I think the transgender community is being targeted, I think it's shameful," said Garcia. "They always say oh no, this is not about the transgender community, that's exactly who it's about"

She said this type of policy should be up to individual schools.

"They've been handling this, they don't need any new rules," said Garcia.

To Garcia, the center of the issue is if people believe transgender boys are indeed boys and if transgender girls are actually girls.

"No one's going to argue that you don't want boys in the girl's bathroom, but the bottom line here is that trans boys are boys, trans girls are girls, and trans boys are boys," said Garcia. "I put dignity and diversity over discrimination, this is what both bills are, it's about discrimination, and this state should not be about allowing and condoning discrimination."

Simmons said his bill doesn't single out people.

"My bill is about the policy, not about the individual," said Simmons. "Our focus is going to be on what their policy or practice is, it's not on, going down and having someone stand in the locker room."

He said he doesn't believe there is an issue right now with which bathrooms transgender people use, and so he doesn't think cities and schools should make laws or policies that address it.

Simmons said that he is talking about those who may be impersonating the opposite gender, not transgender people.

"It does allow potentially for people to take advantage of that broad identity, which is relatively recent I believe, to maybe use that for nefarious reasons," said Simmons.

But he didn't have any instances on hand.

"I don't have any right here on my finger tips, you know this one, this one, this one, but I just know intuitively, that people can do things that were not the original intent," he said.

"You know I've got about 60 years plus experience as a woman, and I've gone to a lot of bathrooms," said Garcia. "I don't have any fear of any transgender woman being in the bathroom."

She doesn't think the lawmakers should even be discussing the issue.

"To me, this is so made up, and so non-existent. We're wasting our time. We're wasting the time of our taxpayers, and we're wasting, quite frankly, a lot of resources of the state that should be going elsewhere," said Garcia.

And even Simmons doesn't know if they will for much longer.

"If the vote gets the floor, it absolutely passes. The problem is the majority doesn't control whether it gets to the floor, whether it gets to the floor is totally controlled by the Speaker of the House," said Simmons.

Kelli Buscy is the author of a blog called "Planet Transgender",

"I have been fighting these bills since their conception, they would take transgender lives and basically destroy them," said Buscy.

She appreciated the moderated discussion.

"I thought it was very good," said Buscy.

But, she thinks the legislation is about religious beliefs, not bathrooms.

"It's about discrimination," said Buscy.

Nicole Hudgens is a Policy Analyst for Texas Values and was also at the event.

"You know I love the fact that we got to have a robust discussion over this issue. I think that's really important," said Hudgens.

She said local governments shouldn't create legislation dealing with bathroom policy because they haven't taken everyone's opinions into account.

"What we've seen in our organization is that the discussion didn't happen in places like Dripping Springs," said Hudgens.

She supports the legislation, saying local governments should focus on privacy.

"Government municipalities have forced this issue, and put girls in a vulnerable situation," said Hudgens. "I think it's a press pause in the situation, but also it protects us from the constant bullying that the state has received from the federal government and then where Texans and then where school children and parents have been bullied by local governments on this issue."

She said the Texas Values group isn't opposed to the idea of offering a separate bathroom for those who are transgender.

"Accommodations can be made for these issues. We don't have a problem with that; it's just making sure that everyone's privacy is protected in that process," said Hudgens.

If this bathroom legislation doesn't pass this special session, Simmons said that he hasn't decided yet, if he would ask the governor to call another special session to try to get it through.

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