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85th TX Lege

Texas House Closes Out Special Legislative Session

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[gdlr_notification icon=”fa-flag” type=”color-background” background=”#ffcc20″ color=”#000000″]This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune[/gdlr_notification]

The special legislative session is over — in one chamber, at least.  

The Texas House abruptly gaveled out Sine Die – the formal designation meaning the end of a session – on Tuesday evening after approving the Senate’s version of a school finance bill that largely stripped provisions the chamber had fought to keep

Gov. Greg Abbott called lawmakers back for a special session on July 18. Special sessions can last for up to 30 days, which gave both chambers til Wednesday to work. 

The House’s move came after days of difficult negotiations with the Senate on school finance and property tax bills — and leaves the fate of the latter in question.  

House Ways and Means Chairman Dennis Bonnen had been expected to appoint members to a conference committee Tuesday so that the two chambers could reconcile their versions of the bill. 

But instead, shortly before the surprise motion to Sine Die, the Angleton Republican made an announcement. 

“I have been working with members of the Senate for several days on SB 1, we have made our efforts, so I don’t want there to be in any way a suggestion that we have not, will not, would not work with the Senate on such an important issue,” he said.  

Then he said he had not appointed a conference committee because he was “trying to keep the bill alive.” 

“If we appointed conferees now, it would kill the bill because there is not enough time,” he said, explaining that under House rules, there would not be enough time left in the session to issue a conference committee report and have the chamber vote on it. 

Bonnen’s announcement came after a vote on a school finance measure in which House members expressed deep disappointment —and  anger — that the bill they had sent to the Senate with $1.8 billion in funding for schools had come back with only $352 million. Some demanded that the House send the measure back. 

“I’d tell the Senate to take back this crap and fix it,” said state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, adding that she did not like “being bullied.” The House ultimately approved the changes to the bill, sending it to the governor’s desk. 

While House lawmakers didn’t get their way with school finance, by adjourning Tuesday night, they have forced the Senate to either accept their version of the property tax bill or let it die. Supporters hope to require larger local governments get voter approval when they want to increase tax collections on existing buildings and land above a certain threshold. A key point of contention: whether that threshold should be at the 6 percent preferred by the House or the 4 percent preferred by the Senate. 

Both Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott have said property tax reform is their top priority for the session. At the time the House adjourned sine die, Abbott was on track to claim victory on nine of the 20 items he had put on the special session call. As of Tuesday afternoon, he had signed five of them into law, and four more were on their way to his desk. 

Patrick forced the special session by holding hostage a bill needed to prevent the shuttering of some state agencies during the regular session in May. At the time, he said he was doing so in order to push the House to move on two pieces of legislation: one that would regulate bathroom use for transgender Texans and another that would set new thresholds for when cities and counties must get voter approval for their property tax rates. 

Just as during the regular session, the House never took a vote on a “bathroom bill” during the special session. 

The Senate is set to reconvene at 8:45 pm on Tuesday night. 

Patrick Svitek contributed reporting to this story. 

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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[gdlr_notification icon=”fa-camera” type=”color-background” background=”#999999″ color=”#ffffff”]Top image: The Texas House abruptly gaveled out Sine Die – the formal designation meaning the end of a session – on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017. / photo credit: Bob Daemmrich / The Texas Tribune[/gdlr_notification]

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85th TX Lege

The Texas Bathroom Bill Saga in 5 minutes (WATCH)

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[gdlr_notification icon=”fa-flag” type=”color-background” background=”#ffcc20″ color=”#000000″]This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune[/gdlr_notification]

From Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s announcement last summer that he would push for a bathroom bill to the bill’s quite demise this month in the special session, this video will take you through the story of the intense political fight in 5 minutes.

Alexa Ura contributed to this report.

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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85th TX Lege

After Months of Controversy, Texas Bathroom Bill Dies Quietly

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[gdlr_notification icon=”fa-flag” type=”color-background” background=”#ffcc20″ color=”#000000″]This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune[/gdlr_notification]

In the end, the controversial bathroom bill went quietly.

For more than a year, Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick led the crusade for a state law to regulate bathroom use for transgender Texans — an initiative that resonated with social conservatives, including many pastors, who backed him up. Patrick for months stood firm in his pursuit for a bathroom bill even while similar campaigns in other states fizzled out.

He was met by loud opposition that only grew with time and eventually proved to be a considerable political force.

Transgender women, men and children from across Texas descended on the Capitol to testify about how the proposal — which would ban local policies that ensured transgender individuals’ right to use public and school restrooms that match their gender identity — could endanger their lives. The business community rallied against the legislation too, giving House Speaker Joe Straus cover as he refused to negotiate with Patrick on bathroom restrictions.

That led to a stalemate over the issue during the regular legislative session that played out in dueling press conferences featuring legislative leaders slamming each other over the issue, threats by Patrick to force lawmakers to return to Austin by holding must-pass bills hostage and last-ditch efforts to attach bathroom restrictions to other pieces of legislation considered in the middle of the night.

Gov. Greg Abbott was eventually forced to call a 30-day special session that revived the bathroom bill. But for all the bathroom-related commotion and cajoling that dominated the regular legislative session, when lawmakers wrapped up the special session on Tuesday, Patrick eulogized the bathroom bill as just one of several proposals that didn’t make it to Abbott’s desk because of Straus.

And in the end, it wasn’t all that hard to see it coming.

Shifting momentum

“We hope that this time, this issue remains settled: Texans don’t want harmful, anti-transgender legislation,” JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president for policy and political affairs at the Human Rights Campaign, said as opponents of the bathroom bill seemed to release a collective sigh of relief when the House abruptly adjourned to end the special session Tuesday evening.

Opponents had been anxiously watching the clock tick down on the 30 days lawmakers were allotted to pass Abbott’s 20-item agenda.

But giving lawmakers a second shot to pass a bathroom bill only seemed to further shift momentum against the legislation as the debate stretched into the summer.

Little had changed for Straus — often a less-vocal foil to some of Patrick’s priorities — who seemed to dig in his heels, arguing that the legislation would have dire economic and moral costs for Texas.

With the national debate over North Carolina’s bathroom still lingering, he was backed up by top business executives, including the heads of dozens of Fortune 500 companies, who worried that Texas could invite the same economic blows the Tar Heel State faced after passing a similar bill, including canceled corporate expansions and sports tournaments.

They called Abbott to express their displeasure and launched a flurry of letters warning about the harm that laws deemed discriminatory toward the LGBT community could cause.

The opposition grew to also include school districts, tourism officials, faith leaders and law enforcement officials.

“Everybody realized the issue really wasn’t going to be resolved without everybody being heard,” said Jeff Moseley, CEO of the Texas Association of Business, who was among those who spearheaded the business opposition.

Lost support

With the opposition growing louder outside the Capitol — eventually including major GOP donors and even Abbott’s campaign treasurer — the bathroom bill’s quiet death march inside the pink dome moved forward.

Within a week of returning to Austin for the special session, the Senate slogged through an 11-hour committee hearing and an eight-hour floor debate ending with a vote to advance the revived bathroom bill.

But it was almost immediately bottled up in the House, where Straus refused to refer it to a committee for consideration. Two other proposals that originated in the House were referred to committee but never got a hearing.

Support for the House bill seemed to drop as the special session began. Eighty Republicans had signed on as co-authors during the regular session — proponents of the bill regularly touted that number as they criticized Straus for keeping the bathroom bill from getting a House vote — but in the special session the number of co-authors dropped to 60.

“Some people were listening,” Lou Weaver, transgender programs coordinator for Equality Texas, said of the drop in co-authors. “Whether it was to the trans communities, to our allies, to our advocates, the business community, faith leaders — whatever the case may be, they did switch.”

Meanwhile, House leadership faced little opposition from proponents of the bathroom bill as they quietly worked to keep bathroom restrictions from being tacked on to key education bills that were moving through the chamber by limiting the amendments lawmakers could propose when those bills reached the House floor.

Across the rotunda, rumors that the Senate was planning to attach the bathroom restrictions to education bills proved unfounded.

By last week, proponents were already conceding that Texas wouldn’t pass a bathroom bill. Republican state Rep. Ron Simmons of Carrollton, the legislation’s author, on Monday acknowledged that he had not recently talked about his proposals with the governor.

Abbott’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the bathroom bill’s demise.

According to those familiar with the negotiations, the measure was not even a factor as the House and Senate worked to hash out their differences over what emerged as the final sticking points of the special session: school finance and property tax legislation.

By then, some Capitol insiders had shifted focus to whether a second failed attempt would finally mark the end of the legislative debate.

“That’s the question: Is that the end of the bathroom bill?” said Bill Miller, an Austin lobbyist.

Fight isn’t over

LGBT advocates and their allies said they’re hopeful there’s been a shift in the debate, explaining that the prolonged fight at the Capitol gave them the opportunity to explain to leaders why proposals like the bathroom bill were discriminatory and dangerous.

But they admit the fight likely isn’t over.

During a late-night press conference on Tuesday, Patrick recounted a one-on-one meeting in which he urged Straus to pass a bathroom bill and “put this issue in the rearview mirror” because it wasn’t going away.

He was echoed earlier in the week by conservative groups that said they would urge the governor to bring lawmakers back for another special session to reconsider the issue.

Abbott has yet to rule out a second special session, but he did acknowledge during a Wednesday morning interview that “there’s no evidence whatsoever” that Straus will be swayed on the issue.

For his part, the speaker has so far only put out a short statement marking the end of the special session that focused on the House’s work to pass legislation “that was in the best interest of all Texans.” It didn’t mention the bathroom bill.

“The House was thoughtful, respectful and decisive in its solution-oriented approach,” Straus said.

Disclosure: The Texas Association of Business and Equality Texas have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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[gdlr_notification icon=”fa-camera” type=”color-background” background=”#999999″ color=”#ffffff”]Top image: Members of various faith communities met at the Texas Capitol on Aug. 1 to speak out against the “bathroom bill.” / photo credit: Austin Price / The Texas Tribune[/gdlr_notification]

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85th TX Lege

Texas Bathroom Bill Appears To Be All But Dead in Special Session

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[gdlr_notification icon=”fa-flag” type=”color-background” background=”#ffcc20″ color=”#000000″]This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune[/gdlr_notification]

Despite it serving, in part, as the reason lawmakers are back in Austin for legislative overtime, the Texas Legislature could very well gavel out next week without passing a “bathroom bill.” 

With just days left in the 30-day special legislative session, controversial proposals to regulate bathroom use for transgender Texans appear to have no clear path to the governor’s desk. As was the case during the regular legislative session that concluded in May, efforts to pass any sort of bathroom bill — a divisive issue pitting Republicans against business leaders, LGBT advocates, law enforcement and even fellow Republicans — have stalled in the Texas House. 

And it’s unlikely that will change in the coming days. 

“I’d say the chances are definitely getting smaller,” Republican state Rep. Ron Simmons of Carrollton, who filed two bathroom bills during the special session, said earlier this week. 

The push to keep transgender Texans out of bathrooms that match their gender identity — a move opponents said was discriminatory and could endanger transgender individuals — largely dominated the regular legislative session between protests, lobbying days, two overnight hearings, legislative bickering among Republican leaders over proposed bathroom bills and, eventually, a forced special session. 

Restricting bathroom use in public facilities was deemed a legislative priority by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. But House Speaker Joe Straus, with the increased backing of the business community, emerged as his most prominent foil on the issue. 

Gov. Greg Abbott — who for months during the regular session was reticent to voice his support for a bathroom bill — eventually took the lieutenant governor’s side and added the issue to his 20-item agenda for a special session that Patrick forced him to call by holding hostage legislation needed to keep open the doors at a handful of state agencies. 

But amid concerns for the safety of an already vulnerable population and statewide economic fallout, those efforts did little to sway the speaker. 

When lawmakers returned to Austin in July, the Senate quickly passed its latest version of the bill to regulate bathroom use in public schools and local government buildings based on the gender listed on a birth certificate or Texas ID. It would also nix parts of local nondiscrimination ordinances meant to ensure transgender Texans can use public bathrooms that match their gender identity. 

Just like during the regular session, Straus has refused to refer that bill to a House committee — the first step in the legislative process. 

With the passage of a bathroom bill seeming improbable, Republican state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst — the author of the Senate legislation — on Friday suggested lawmakers could be left to address the issue in the future. 

“Men do not belong in female locker rooms, showers and restrooms and no amount of monetary threats, corporate logos, New Yorker articles or Hollywood hypocrisy will ever change that,” Kolkhorst said in a prepared statement. “Many Texans are alarmed at the effort by some to erode all gender barriers in our schools and public spaces and at the end of the day, there will be future legislative sessions and elections to continue the conversation.” 

Simmons’ proposals in the House, which are focused on prohibiting municipalities and school districts from enacting trans-inclusive bathroom policies, were referred to the House State Affairs Committee. But that committee’s chairman, state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, has indicated it’s not likely the committee will hold a hearing to consider the legislation. 

And with the clock running out on the special session – both chambers must adjourn by Wednesday – the demise of those proposals is looking more and more certain. 

“I mean realistically, if the chairman says he’s not going to give a hearing then I can’t force him to,” Simmons said. 

It’s unclear whether bathroom bill proponents will orchestrate an 11th-hour attempt to attach the restrictions to another piece of legislation. Similar efforts were unsuccessful during the regular session. 

Simmons — who earlier this week hadn’t completely given up on his bills — speculated whether they could be rewritten to add to one of the pending education bills. But he was unsure whether he could craft an amendment in such a way that it would survive a likely parliamentary challenge by opponents who could argue that Simmons’ amendment was not germane to the bill under debate. 
 

Asked whether she was considering ways to amend the language to other legislation, Kolkhorst’s office did not address the issue. 

Even the head of the House Freedom Caucus — a group of the chamber’s most conservative members who previously tried to attach bathroom restrictions to other pieces of legislation — appeared resigned to not getting a vote on a bathroom bill. 

“The speaker is very clearly involved in blocking this issue,” state Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, said on Thursday. “He’s made many public comments on it and the buck stops with Joe Straus on this.” 

Despite the governor’s insistence that the Legislature should go “20 for 20” on his special session agenda, it’s clear that won’t be the case come next week. But it remains unclear where a loss on the bathroom bill will fall on Abbott’s list of grievances. 

Since the start of the special session, Abbott in interviews and fundraising emails has emphasized other priorities on his agenda over the bathroom bill. Last week, he told the Austin American-Statesman that it was “way premature” to assume Simmons’ proposals wouldn’t get a vote in the House. 

His office did not respond to a request for comment for this story. 

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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[gdlr_notification icon=”fa-camera” type=”color-background” background=”#999999″ color=”#ffffff”]Top image: Protesters rally in favor of transgender rights at the Texas Capitol, on July 21, 2017. / photo credit: Marjorie Kamys Cotera / The Texas Tribune[/gdlr_notification]

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