Bathroom privacy on the Texas governor's Special Session call

An issue that deeply divided Texas lawmakers -- across party lines -- will be back up for discussion in the special session.

AUSTIN, Texas -- The empty chambers of the Texas Legislature will soon be filled with lawmakers. And one issue on the Special Session call is sure to cause divides in the House.

"Another way to avoid a patchwork quilt of conflicting local regulations," Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said when announcing that he was calling a Special Session, "is for Texas to establish a single, state-wide rule protecting the privacy of women and children."

In other words, a bathroom bill. Abbott went on to say that he had a bill in mind. 

"House Bill 2899 by Rep. Ron Simmons would achieve that. It preempts local regulations that conflict with state standards. It also upholds federal standards that prohibit discrimination," Abbott added. 

Here's how Simmons (R-Carrollton) explained the bill during the regular session.

"House Bill 2899 says, 'Wait a second, let's take a time out here.' And if there's an issue that needs to be handled related to discrimination, which is what the charge is in this, then we need to handle that at the state level," Simmons said. 

But HB 2899 was never debated on the House floor. Neither was the Senate-approved bathroom bill by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) that would require people to use restrooms, locker rooms and showers in state-owned buildings and schools according to the sex on their birth certificate.

Speaker of the House Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) isn't a fan of bathroom legislation.

"I think we should be very careful about doing something that could make Texas less competitive for investments, jobs and the highly-skilled workforce needed to compete. That's my personal view and it's the sentiment back home," Straus said while delivering the keynote address at the Texas Association of Business' Annual Meeting and Policy Conference back in January. 

Days before sine die, the House did pass a watered-down version that called on schools to have separate facilities available. But that just led to a war of words between Straus and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R).

"For many of us and especially for me, this was a compromise. As far as I'm concerned, it was enough," Straus said of the amendment that was passed. 

"We were willing to negotiate, we were willing to work, but he laid down the gauntlet tonight," Patrick countered.

Gov. Abbott asked Simmons and Kolkhorst to craft privacy legislation for the Special Session and signaled there may be a compromise.

"At a minimum, we need a law that protects the privacy of our children in our public schools," Abbott said. 

Simmons has filed two bills similar to HB 2899. They are HB 46 and HB 50. They prohibit cities, counties, schools and school boards from creating policies regulating multiple occupancy bathrooms, showers or changing facilities.

The Special Session starts July 18. 

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