Despite Warnings from Law Enforcement, Senate Passes Bathroom Bill

Despite Warnings from Law Enforcement, Senate Passes Bathroom Bill
Abbott Photo by World Travel & Tourism Council/Flickr, Straus Photo by David Martin Davies/Flickr, , Patrick Photo by David Martin Davies/Flickr
Even though law enforcement leaders from Texas's largest cities said Tuesday that the bathroom bill was pointless and would do nothing to protect public safety or women's privacy, Republican senators forged onward anyway.

The bill passed on a 21-10 vote along party lines and will head to the House, where Speaker Joe Straus and other Republicans, such as Sarah Davis of West University Place, also believe the bathroom bill is unnecessary and would harm the LGBT community. Called SB 3 during the special session, the bathroom bill would require transgender people to use restrooms in public schools and universities and government buildings that correspond with their sex at birth, not their current gender identity, and will prohibit cities and schools from passing any policies or ordinances that "protect a class of persons from discrimination" if the policy regulates bathrooms or participation on sports teams.

"It may be great political theater," said Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo at the Capitol press conference Tuesday, "but it is bad on public safety."

Police chiefs from Dallas, San Antonio and Austin joined Acevedo in denouncing the bill, saying that regulating what bathrooms people use is largely unenforceable and that asking police to even try to do it would steal their valuable time away from doing actual police work and stopping crime. The chiefs made clear that men are already prohibited from assaulting, harassing and filming women in bathrooms, and that the bathroom bill doesn't change that. Harris County Sheriff's Office Assistant Chief Debra Schmidt said the panic over bathroom assaults was fabricated and that no "crisis" had merited this legislation — a solution in search of a problem.

“When we spin our wheels over scare tactics like this, we're doing a real disservice to our communities,” Schmidt said.

The bathroom bill faces an uphill climb in the House, where Speaker Straus has repeatedly tried to thwart putting the bill to a floor vote. House Republicans have found themselves torn between two constituencies: the business community that has repeatedly warned that passing discriminatory legislation will deter new businesses and large conventions from coming to Texas; and the right-wing social conservative voter base, which has largely supported Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick's and Senator Lois Kolkhorst's argument that the safety of women and children in public bathrooms is at risk.

During the regular session, when Patrick threatened to force a special session if Straus failed to bring the bathroom bill to a vote, the House tried to compromise by passing a watered-down version of the bathroom bill that would require schools to offer single-occupancy bathrooms to any transgender student who asked for it. But this did not satisfy Patrick, who followed through on his threat with the support of Governor Greg Abbott.

Straus and the House might as well be planning to just do this again. The special session's clock is running, and if Patrick is again dissatisfied with the House's version by the time it ends, Governor Abbott will find himself in an awkward position: Given most other bills go as planned during the session, would he really be willing to call a second special session over bathroom rules? Texans may soon find out.
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Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn