Business and civil rights groups late Tuesday put the final nail in the coffin of a measure aimed at preventing transgender people from using bathroom or locker room facilities that match their gender identity, over the objections of one of the most powerful conservatives in state government.
The measure, a top priority of Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), died when the state House adjourned Tuesday without taking it up.
State House Speaker Joe Straus (R), who represents the more business-oriented wing of the Texas GOP, never wanted to bring the bill to a vote. He helped kill a similar measure, which he said would hurt the state’s economy, during the legislature’s regular session.
Top executives from some of the largest companies in Texas lobbied hard against the bill.
At a rally before last month’s special session began, representatives from companies including IBM and the Texas Association of Business joined pro-LGBT rights groups to urge legislators to oppose the measure.
“I believe that most of the members of the House are not looking to harm the Texas economy,” Straus told The Hill in an interview last month in his capitol office. “I’m encouraged by the stronger support for keeping Texas a pro-business, job-creating state from the business community.”
At a late-night news conference, Patrick blasted Straus for ending the session before taking up the bathroom bill and several other measures backed by Gov. Greg Abbott (R).
“I think what I’m most unhappy with is the House quit tonight,” Patrick said. “They walked off the job.”
The legislature passed half of the 20 measures Abbott proposed for the 30-day special session, including new restrictions on abortions, limits on local government powers to annex property and to regulate homeowners’ ability to cut down trees, and a pay increase for teachers.
But the session ended without action on Abbott’s top priority, a bill to limit local property taxes. The state House and Senate could not come to an agreement on details of those limits, even while local jurisdictions lobbied hard against any new state interference.
Abbott’s office did not say whether the governor would call a second special session, but Patrick seemed to suggest there is no new session in the offing.
“That’s the governor’s decision, and that will be for him to answer,” Patrick said when asked if there would be another special session. He said both the bathroom bill and the property tax limits would certainly come up when the legislature meets next, in 2019.
The bathroom bill, similar to one that inspired boycotts and protests in North Carolina before it was repealed earlier this year, sowed deep new divisions in a Republican Party that dominates the state capitol. Patrick, an arch conservative who controls the state Senate, spent months attacking the more centrist Straus. Abbott was caught uncomfortably in the middle, though he sided with Patrick most of the time.
Civil rights groups haven’t scored many victories in conservative states this year, but they hailed the bathroom bill’s demise.
“Even in these dark times, LGBTQ organizers, business leaders, fair-minded politicians and allies in Texas and across the country rose up against Gov. Abbott’s outright attempt to place his anti-trans agenda ahead of the well-being of the state and its people,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, who heads GLAAD, the pro-gay rights group.
Patrick pointed to two new measures that will restrict access to abortions: One would prohibit abortion coverage in primary health insurance plans. Another increases the reporting requirements on medical facilities when complications from an abortion arise.
“I don’t know if you can find a legislative body in the history of the country that passed so many pro-life bills,” Patrick said. “This session, we accomplished a lot.”