Texas Senators voted Tuesday to initially pass Senate Bill 3 (SB3), the so-called 'bathroom bill,' by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham).
"This bill will hit the, what I call, the reset button and provide privacy and safety that Texans expect," Kolkhorst said.
As written, SB3 would require people use multiple occupancy restrooms, showers and changing facilities according to the sex on their birth certificate in public and charter schools and state and city owned buildings. The bill also prohibits cities and schools from creating their own anti-discrimination policies on multiple occupancy restrooms or participation in athletics.
If passed, the law would be enforced by the attorney general because it regulates political subdivisions.
"I believe in my heart that it's more than a quote-end quote bathroom bill," said Kolkhorst. "Many of you have heard me speak of Title IX, you've heard me talk about women's rights, the advances that we have made females in sports and athletic events. And I stand by those statements."
Those statements are what Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) used to try and get SB3 thrown out. He argued SB3 goes beyond the scope of what Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has issued on the call to allow lawmakers to vote on during the Special Session.
Watson read the language of the Special Session Call, which calls for:
Legislation regarding the use of multi-occupancy showers, locker rooms, restrooms, and changing rooms.
"The constitution is very clear that the subject itself must be in the call. And the subject of participating in sports, which is what this bill says and what the author has indicated is her intent, is not in the subject of any of our calls," said Watson.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) overruled Watson's motion. In turn, Watson appealed the ruling, triggering a vote on Patrick's ruling by the full Senate.
While lawmakers debated inside the Capitol, outside city leaders, business leaders and police chiefs from across the state held a news conference to oppose SB3.
"Passing this bill would be a self-inflicted wound of mammoth proportion," said Austin Mayor Steve Adler. "The real problem is school finance. The only thing the people of this state want this body to do in this building is to fix the school finance system."
"I am not aware of any evidence that shows there has been a problem with men entering into women's bathrooms to create issues," said Austin Police Chief Brian Manley. "And if there were to be, we already have laws on the books to address that behavior. So this bill in the way that it is written and would be enacted does nothing more than to marginalize part of our society that is already marginalized and it is going to make our communities less safe."
Former Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo, who is now Chief of the Houston Police Department, also spoke against SB3.
"First let me make it real clear, myself and my department all the departments back here, we've been checking our databases to see this horrific crimes that this bill will purportedly prevent. And I've got news for them, we have yet to find anything," Acevedo said.
"Folks will feel emboldened, they will feel that they can discriminate, they will feel that they can target and they will feel they can have vigilante justice out there because of this law," he added.
Back inside, the Senate voted on party lines to uphold Patrick's ruling and the debate on the merits of SB3 ensued.
"Senate Bill 3 offers a statewide solution," said Kolkhorst. "In hitting the reset button it moves the authority of setting this policy for our political subdivisions to the state so we don't see this playing out school district by school district."
But Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) argued the bill discriminates against transgender Texans and lawmakers are making a decision about an issue they don't fully understand.
"Some of our Texans, who quite frankly, were minding their own business, living a very productive life, and now we're about to disrupt that," said Whitmire.
"I think we owe it to all sides to have grown-up discussions and I don't think we've done, in my judgment, a thorough job of drilling down into the actual facts of this subject," he added.
Senators proposed 27 amendments to SB3 and a handful of them passed. The first amendment came from Kolkhorst. It removed references to discrimination in describing the types of ordinances and rules political subdivisions can pass. It also added an intent and clarified portions of the bill regarding athletics. It allows schools to have policies on athletics when the sport is not offered for the opposite sex. So, for example, if a girl is the kicker on a football team, she would still be allowed to play.
An amendment was also approved that states if a facility is rented out by a private entity, that entity can regulate the restrooms, showers and changing facilities as it sees fit.
Perhaps most notably, an amendment was added that will allow people to use their state issued driver's license, identification card or concealed handgun license in lieu of a birth certificate when deciding which restroom to use.
Kolkhorst said this was a solution for transgender Texans who have not been able to change their birth certificates but have changed their licenses.
Senators voted 21-10 to initially approve the bill. Sen. Eddie Lucio (Brownsville) was the only democrat to support the bill, saying his constituents want him to protect their privacy.
The Senate still has to take another vote on the bill before it is sent to the House of Representatives for considerations.
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