Governor includes anti-transgender ‘bathroom bill’ in 30-day session beginning July 18.
By Ryan M. Leach
Gov. Greg Abbott revealed Tuesday that the Texas Legislature will return to Austin on July 18 for a 30-day Special Session to tackle 19 priority issues that he felt should have been addressed during the regular session that ended last month.
Among them is a revival of House Bill 2899, a bill that would prevent local governments from enforcing nondiscrimination laws that protect the transgender community. HB 2899 would retroactively nullify nondiscrimination ordinances covering millions of Texas, including in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio.
“It was certainly widely expected that Gov. Abbott would call a special session: There are many items that Texas legislators did not act on, perhaps because they were distracted by the numerous, cruel efforts to enshrine anti-LGBT discrimination into law,” Lambda Legal senior counsel Jennifer C. Pizer said in a statement responding to Abbott’s announcement.
“There is enough actual business Texas legislators need to take care of without pandering to Lt. Gov. [Dan] Patrick and his determination to demonize transgender kids,” Pizer added. “That’s not just wrong and abusive: it’s also begging to be sued.”
Pizer noted that the Legislature did pass one anti-LGBT measure, HB 3859, which allows taxpayer-funded adoption and foster care agencies to discriminate against LGBT people based on sincerely held religious beliefs.
“We ask the Texas Legislature not to compound the error with this unwarranted solution in search of a problem driven by Lt. Gov. Patrick’s mistaken, discriminatory belief that transgender schoolchildren pose some kind of danger to others,” Pizer said. “Dozens of business leaders and sports organizations have called on legislators not to enact anti-LGBT legislation, pointing to the experience of North Carolina as a cautionary tale. And, as we said before, if the Legislature does force discrimination targeting transgender schoolchildren into Texas law, you can bet that Lambda Legal will be on the case before the next school bell rings.”
Abbott expressed his displeasure with local control on many other levels throughout the long 2017 regular session. In the Special Session, he’s also asking the Legislature to pass ordinances that would limit local control as it relates to permitting, annexation, use of mobile devices while driving and myriad other issues.
This special session means that the LGBTQ community will once again be on the menu, and it opens the door to even more restrictive legislation similar to Senate Bill 6, aka the “bathroom bill,” which would also have prohibited trans Texans from using the appropriate restroom in government buildings. Abbott’s announcement officially clarifies where he stands on a bathroom bill and signals his support for a so-called compromise between the House and the Senate. Throughout the regular session, the House did not appear to have an appetite for the more controversial and restrictive SB6. However, it also failed to pass HB 2899, which the governor is pushing for.
The ball is now back in the court of the Senate and the House to decide where Texas stands on laws designed to intentionally target and discriminate against the LGBTQ community. Although the governor has the authority to call a special session and set the agenda, the ultimate decision to create and pass laws must come from the legislative branch.
This focus on legislation like HB 2899 is a small victory for Patrick, who has been an ardent supporter of laws that would harm the LGBTQ community. Patrick claims that this legislation is necessary to protect the privacy and safety of women and children in bathrooms. This Special Session will give him a summer-long platform to advocate for discrimination.
In 2015, the Houston City Council passed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), which prohibited discrimination against the LGBTQ community. Current state and federal laws do not offer such protections. Voters overwhelmingly repealed HERO in November of that year.
This marked the third time that a Houston nondiscrimination ordinance was rejected by voters. Although Houston doesn’t currently have an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance, a bill similar to HB 2899 could undo protections for trans students in the Houston Independent School District, as well as former Mayor Annise Parker’s executive order that applies to trans city employees and to city-owned facilities.
Although Abbott only signaled his support for laws that would undo and prohibit local nondiscrimination ordinances, the Legislature could take that opportunity to reintroduce the more controversial and restrictive bathroom legislation that failed to pass during the session. The governor would likely sign it if it passed.
Abbott also asked for additional legislation that would further restrict access to abortion, including preventing local funding for any health care provider that performs abortions. He also called for reform and restriction on local authority to increase property tax rates. One positive request was for the public finance education system to be overhauled in the Special Session, a long overdue review of the byzantine system that’s currently in place.
“Instead of forcing the Legislature to focus on bills that will really help everyday Texans, Gov. Abbott wants taxpayers once again to pay for lawmakers to turn the Capitol into a playground for their culture war obsessions,” Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller said in a statement. “Texas faces a lot of important challenges, but how to humiliate and discriminate against transgender people in public restrooms, shame women and make it harder for them to obtain safe and legal abortion care, and undermine our neighborhood public schools with misguided voucher schemes are simply not among them. The Legislature already passed bills this session to promote discrimination against LGBT Texans and make abortion access even more difficult. But apparently even those bills weren’t extreme enough for the governor. Calling lawmakers back to Austin means simply doubling down on the culture wars. Frankly, stunts like this make Texas look more and more to the rest of the country like a big state with very small-minded leaders.”