After Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick vowed to make the so-called "bathroom bill" a top priority this legislative session, state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) filed Senate Bill 6, the "Texas Privacy Act" at the Texas State Capitol Thursday.
Patrick and others are championing the law in hopes that it will have more success than the one enacted in North Carolina, which is now facing an appeal.
Patrick said the law is meant to keep predators from abusing local laws that allow transgender people to use the restroom of the gender with which they identify.
"Transgender people have obviously been going into the ladies' room for a long time, and there hasn't been an issue that I know of," Patrick said. "But if laws are passed by cities and counties and school districts that allow men to go into a bathroom because of the way they feel, we will not be able to stop sexual predators from taking advantage of that law, like sexual predators take advantage of the internet."
As Kolkhorst and Patrick discussed the bill with the news media on Thursday, protestors stood outside the Senate Chamber holding signs, booing and yelling "Shame."
Kolkhorst said the bill has three main parts. The first prohibits local governments from adopting ordinances that regulate bathrooms and locker rooms of private businesses.
The City of Austin has an ordinance in place that requires single-use commercial restrooms to have gender neutral signs. The bill would nullify that ordinance and others like it. The bill also states local governments can't consider a business' bathroom policy when awarding contracts.
The bill also states that in government buildings and public schools and universities, each dressing room, locker room and bathroom must be designated for use based on a person's biological sex and clarifies that a person must go by the sex listed on their birth certificate. There are exceptions in the case of an emergency, for parents with small children, custodians and the disabled. The bill also states schools can make individual accommodations for transgender people.
The third section of the bill enhances penalties by one degree for crimes committed in public dressing rooms, showers, locker rooms and bathrooms.
"Are we going to have bathroom police? No," said Kolkhorst. "What this is, is it allows an individual who feels uncomfortable to report that. And in our schools, if they're violating this, the Attorney General has some measures that can, that they can penalize the school districts or the cities."
While supporters say the bill is about protecting privacy, opponents argue it discriminates against transgender people.
"If we're seriously interested in protecting people and trying to stop predatory behavior, then the target of the legislation should be predators, not transgender people," said Chuck Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Equality Texas. "Because transgender people are more likely to be the victims of crime, not the perpetrators."
The Texas Association of Business has already come out against this and other bills they call "discriminatory."
If the same fall-out that North Carolina has experienced from their "bathroom bill" happens in Texas, experts estimate the state stands to lose some $8.5 billion -- a loss of 185,000 jobs.
"There continues to be a growing list, which is currently estimated at approximately $700 million of economic losses in the state of North Carolina," said Smith. "There are numerous sporting events and entertainment events that have canceled and convention and visitor and convention planning has had a huge impact."
Patrick said Texas' economy will continue to thrive if Senate Bill 6 passes, pointing out Houston's success despite it's similar ordinance known as HERO.
"I'm not aware of any businesses that didn't move to Houston because of that bill," said Patrick. "The Super Bowl is teed up for 5:30 p.m. on February 7th in Houston."
Lawmakers and advocates have issued statements in support of and against SB 6.
Attorney General Ken Paxton:
“After our success in stopping President Obama’s bathroom rules in court, states are now free to enact legislation of their choosing to protect privacy. Texans should feel safe and secure when they enter any intimate facility, so I applaud the work of Lieutenant Governor Patrick and Senator Kolkhorst for fighting to protect women and children from those who might use access to such facilities for nefarious purposes.”
Nicole Hudgens, Policy Analyst for Texas Values Action:
“The State of Texas has a duty to protect the privacy, safety, and dignity of all Texans- especially in government buildings. This law ensures common sense—men and boys should not be in girls’ locker rooms and bathrooms. Since some local governments and school boards in Texas continue to push for allowing boys and men into girls bathrooms, we need a state law to have basic, consistent and transparent standards on this important issue across the state. ”
State Senator José Rodríguez:
“Regardless of what shape this bill takes, its intent is clear: singling out transgender people for discrimination. Discrimination of any kind is antithetical to Texas values of equal opportunity for all people. Any legislation that would attack transgender Texans — especially vulnerable transgender children — is not only morally wrong, but, as we've seen in states like North Carolina, will hurt Texas' economy and reputation around the world. Frankly, the Texas Legislature has real issues to address like adequately funding our schools, improving health care, and fixing our broken CPS system. These issues deserve our focus, not the demonization of transgender Texans.”
Rebecca L. Robertson, legal and policy director for the ACLU of Texas:
“After having watched the debacle in North Carolina, it is shocking that the Lieutenant Governor would be so intent on pursuing SB6. It’s unnecessary, discriminatory and inconsistent with the constitutional value of equal protection for all. And that’s to say nothing of the havoc it will wreak on the Texas economy should it pass. Make no mistake — the invidious intent of SB6 is to deny transgender Texans the ability to participate in public life.”
Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas:
“The Texas State Legislature has exactly one constitutionally assigned duty: to pass a budget. If they’re planning on spending the session on SB6 and spiteful legislation like it, we’d much rather they restrained themselves to that one duty, packed up their circus tents and went home. But if the Lieutenant Governor is truly worried about the safety of women and children, he would cease his assaults on women’s well-being, repair Texas’s moribund CPS program and see to the millions of uninsured children whose lives and futures have been compromised by our lawmakers’ warped priorities.”
After the bill was filed, Patrick addressed the media. GO HERE if you are unable to see the embedded video.