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85th TX Lege

With Bathroom Bill, TX Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick Plows Into “Tough Fight”

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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]

Eight months ago, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick stormed the Texas GOP convention in Dallas as a man on a mission. 

He had recently picked a fight with Fort Worth Superintendent Kent Scribner over his approval of bathroom guidelines for transgender students, and in a twist of perfect political timing, President Barack Obama had just issued a similar guidance to all public schools in the middle of the convention. Shortly after the convention, Attorney General Ken Paxton punctuated Patrick’s drum-beating with a lawsuit against the Obama administration over the directive

“He says he’s going to withhold funding if schools do not follow the policy,” Patrick said at the convention. “Well, in Texas, he can keep his 30 pieces of silver. We will not be blackmailed by the president of the United States.”  

Standing in front of reporters Thursday, Patrick was still a man on the mission, but the political moment had shifted. In the months prior, a Texas judge had blocked the Obama guidance and the bathroom issue had largely cooled off on the national stage — even contributing to the re-election loss of North Carolina’s governor, by some accounts — and opposition to similar legislation in Texas had begun to gain momentum. 

Patrick is now in for a self-admitted “tough fight” in the Texas Legislature, where he faces fierce opposition from the business community and lukewarm support from fellow Republicans, at least outside his Senate. That reality did not immediately change Thursday, when he joined state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, to roll out the highly anticipated Texas Privacy Act, which would require transgender people to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings and public universities based on “biological sex.” The bill would also pre-empt local nondiscrimination ordinances that allow transgender people to use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity. 

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Patrick ally and a fellow Houston Republican who chairs the Texas Senate GOP caucus, acknowledged Thursday that it is “going to take some time to talk to the business community, make sure they understand what that bill is” — especially after alarm-sounding by business groups that Patrick allies have criticized as unfounded.  

“The beginning of that was obviously” Thursday, Bettencourt said. “Once people can understand what the bill is, certainly the fear of [economic harm] will obviously disappear because it wasn’t real in the first place.”  

Patrick was characteristically combative at Thursday’s news conference, saying he had never seen so much misinformation about a piece of legislation before it was filed. He singled out one recent report that suggested he had struggled to find a senator to carry the bill, revealing that he and Kolkhorst had been working on it since Sept. 1. Kolkhorst, for her part, said some of her staff did not even know she was taking up the cause.  

The bill’s supporters are betting big that public opinion will overpower whatever resistance they encounter at the Capitol. Their reference point is polling that Patrick’s political operation commissioned last year, which it says shows there is broad support for making it “illegal for a man to enter a women’s restroom.” They also point to the 2015 demise of Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance, better known as HERO, which featured much of the same message Patrick is now using with the statewide legislation.  

“I think what you will see is when it comes to the legislative process, let’s look at where the people are,” said Nicole Hudgens, a policy analyst for Texas Values, a socially conservative group allied with Patrick. “There are so many Texans that are for this policy and this legislation, and I think that’s going to be reflected in the Legislature.”  

Patrick and Kolkhorst launched the effort without any clear support from Gov. Greg Abbott, who involved himself in the HERO debate but has been less vocal about the need for statewide legislation. Speaking with reporters last month, Abbott said the issue was worthy of attention but he was waiting for more information on the bill. Abbott’s office was quiet after Patrick and Kolkhorst unveiled the legislation Thursday. 

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, has been even cooler toward Patrick’s push, calling a so-called “bathroom bill” not the “most urgent concern of mine.” That has fueled the perception that the bill is dead on arrival in the lower chamber, which in general has been less receptive to Patrick’s signature proposals than the Senate. 

Bettencourt expressed hope that Senate Bill 6 would get a fair hearing in the House. He said the two chambers are “actually much further along at having substantive discussions” before the forthcoming session compared to the last one, which began with a major leadership turnover stemming from the 2014 statewide elections.  

“I think it’s all premature to say what that discussion is going to be because I don’t believe the bill is what it is being portrayed as,” Bettencourt said when asked about the House’s receptiveness to Senate Bill 6. “And once that is obvious, there may be a different reaction.” 

In the House, state Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, has been outspoken on the issue. On Thursday, he said he was crafting legislation that would only “prevent any local government from regulating bathrooms,” which would be similar to one component of Senate Bill 6. By solely focusing on local governments, the House bill would avoid the more incendiary debates sparked by a potential statewide mandate, Shaheen suggested.  

“This bathroom issue is just sucking up a bunch of time and resources,” Shaheen said. “I think because my approach is more of a scope-of-government-type of discussion — I avoid the whole bathroom dialogue in general — I think there’ll be a receptiveness to the bill.”  

In any case, the business community has spent months looking to derail any bill related to the issue, warning it could lead to the same turmoil that visited North Carolina when its lawmakers pushed similar legislation. The Texas Association of Business and its allies have been the most vocal, touting a report the group released last month that said such legislation could cost the state between $964 million and $8.5 billion and more than 100,000 jobs.  

Caroline Joiner, executive director for the Texas and the Southeast for TechNet, a technology industry group opposed to the bill, said one of its challenges is convincing “individual legislators and their constituents that this is not hypothetical — we will have real, devastating economic impacts.” And while Joiner, like many others, expects the issue to be better received in the Senate than in the House, she said TechNet has an interest in educating lawmakers from both chambers about the potential economic consequences.  

“I think we absolutely need to be telling that story as aggressively in the House as we are in the Senate,” Joiner said. “Yes, it’s going to be less of a priority for Speaker Straus, but we want to make sure he has the support from his members to oppose it.” 

For Democrats, the debate provides an opportunity to capitalize on the growing schism between the increasingly conservative Texas GOP and the more moderate business community. On Thursday, the state Democratic Party quickly branded Kolkhorst’s legislation as an “$8.5 billion bathroom bill,” citing the Texas Association of Business study.  

The report itself has been a source of controversy, with Patrick and his allies denouncing it as misinformation and fearmongering. Bettencourt said the study “had some holes you could drive a Mack truck through,” while Shaheen said he wants it known that he and several colleagues are “highly disappointed in TAB about they’ve misrepresented the business impact of these types of bills.” 

Patrick continued to rail against the report Thursday, suggesting in a radio interview after the bill unveiling that the study’s findings were not uniformly supported by the business community. 

“The members of the Texas Association of Business have already said they don’t even believe their own report,” Patrick told Tony Perkins, president of the socially conservative Family Research Council. “That report was based on not any economic data, but just extracting some numbers that some people who I believe are with the TAB who are just against the bill. Period. Just want to try to make their argument, but it’s no real data. It’s ridiculous.”  

A Texas Association of Business official did not return requests 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: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst unveil the text of Senate Bill 6, which would require transgender people to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings and universities based on “biological sex,” on Jan. 5, 2017. / photo illustration: Bob Daemmrich / Texas Tribune[/gdlr_notification]

Patrick Svitek is the primary political correspondent for The Texas Tribune, and editor of The Blast, the Tribune's subscription-only daily newsletter for political insiders. Patrick logged countless miles on the 2016 campaign trail, covering the many Texas angles of the momentous presidential race. He previously worked for the Houston Chronicle's Austin bureau. He graduated in 2014 from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. He originally is from Fort Wayne, Indiana.

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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 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.

[gdlr_space height=”20px”]
[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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