feature image by Ralph Barrera—Austin American-Statesman/AP
Yesterday, the Texas Senate approved SB6, which would require transgender people to use public restrooms in government buildings, public schools and public universities that matches their “biological sex.” The bill would also block local anti-discrimination bills, like those found in Austin and Dallas, that protect trans people and their right to use the public bathroom that matches their gender. The bill would not apply to private businesses or public buildings leased by private businesses. The vote 21-10 was mostly down partisan lines with one Democrat, state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. from Brownsville voting in favor of the bill. The bill moves on to the upper chamber for final Senate approval, which could happen as early as today, before it moves on to the House.
SB6, authored by Republican Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, has been Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s priority this legislative session. Patrick, who talked about a “women’s privacy” bill months before the legislative session began, said in an interview on a Dallas radio station, that as lieutenant governor, it’s his job to “uphold Texas conservative values, and that’s what [he] did in the Senate.”
For more than four hours, the Senate debated over the bill, with Democrats saying the bill would discriminate against trans people and deter sporting events and businesses away from Texas and Republicans insisting the bill is about the safety and privacy of women and girls.
Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat, called the bill unnecessary and pointed out it’s already illegal to harass or assault someone in a bathroom or anywhere in the state. Sen. Jose Rodriguez, a Democrat, called the legislation a result of “lack of understanding” and fear of transgender people.
Kolkhorst defended the legislation and cited that trans people could change their birth certificates to reflect their gender. However Democrats shot back that it requires a court order, which isn’t feasible for many trans individuals in the state.
Before voting on the bill, Senators considered 22 amendments, with the majority of them coming from Democrats trying their best to curb the bill’s limitations and blatant discrimination towards trans people. Sen. Rodriguez even tried to add amendments to the bill that would exempt trans people from SB6 and protect existing local LGBT anti-discrimination laws. All amendments were rejected by Kolkhorst, the bill’s author, except for three which make minor adjustments to the legislation but doesn’t dramatically alter the bill.
The Senate vote follows an emotional 13-hour State Senate Affairs Committee hearing last week which drew 2,000 people to the capital with the majority of the them opposed to the bill. More than 400 people signed up to testify in front of the committee, the majority of them also opposed to the bill. The bill passed easily there with a vote of 8 to 1.
If approved by the upper chamber, the bill will be move forward to the House, which is dominated by Republicans but whose members are not as eager to take it up. House Speaker Joe Strauss, a Republican, has said the bill is a distraction and will be a burden to the state’s economy.