The Texas Senate today voted 21-10 in favor of an anti-transgender "bathroom bill," Senate Bill 3, after eight hours of debate.
The bill would require students, staff, and visitors in public schools to use the restrooms and other single-sex facilities matching the gender on their birth certificate or an ID issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety, and would put the same restriction on those using facilities in buildings overseen by local governments, The Texas Tribune reports. It would also override portions of city ordinances that allow trans people to use the restrooms of their choice.
It needs one more approval by the Senate before going on to the House. If the legislation passes both chambers, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has vowed to sign it. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, also a Republican, has made its passage a priority for the legislature's special session, which began last week.
The final Senate vote could come as early as Wednesday, according to the Tribune. (UPDATE: The bill received final approval that day.) The bill is authored by GOP Sen Lois Kolkhorst, and it is supported mostly by Republicans. All Republicans voted for it today, and all Democrats voted against it except for Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville -- the same result as in a vote in March, during the regular session.
But the House's top Republican, Speaker Joe Straus, strongly opposes the bill, which stalled in his chamber during the regular session. Straus has cited the high risk of suicide among transgender people, recently telling The New Yorker, "I don't want the suicide of a single Texan on my hands." When a reporter asked Straus if the bill could be sent to a committee and never come out, Straus simply smiled.
During today's lengthy debate, Kolkhorst and her supporters contended the bill was about safety and privacy. She said it "shuts down the opportunity for predators and voyeurs to assault women by exploiting this proposed lack of gender boundaries."
But opponents pointed out that there are already laws on the books against assault, voyeurism, and other crimes in public restrooms and locker rooms. They said it would not improve privacy but invade it by encouraging Texans to police the gender of those perceived to be trans. Opponents further brought up possible economic repercussions and the fact that law enforcement officials have come out against the bill.
They also said that the bottom line is that the bill discriminates against a vulnerable population. Several Democratic senators likened the bill to laws that allowed racial discrimination, and one of them, Jose Rodriguez, said SB puts Texas "on the wrong side of history."
National groups condemned the bill too. Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, issued this statement: "Once again, the Senate launched another groundless attack on transgender children. When hundreds of Texans -- including educators, law enforcement officers, women's rights activists, business leaders, and more -- came to Austin last Friday to testify on SB 3, the overwhelming majority spoke out in opposition to discrimination, outnumbering the supporters of the bill 13 to 1. That should have sent a message to Senators: Texans don't want their government to write discrimination into law. They don't want their legislators to be chasing phantom problems, especially not when the purported solution could send shockwaves through Texas' economy and harm transgender and non-transgender Texans alike. Now, Texas is counting on the representatives in the House to be the grown-ups and put the brakes on this agenda of bigotry and discrimination before it goes any further."
"By approving SB 3, the Texas Senate has displayed outright negligence for the safety and will of their own constituents," said Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD. "This law is designed to make it nearly impossible for transgender and gender-nonconforming people to go about their daily lives like other Texans and opens the transgender students to discrimination, bullying, and violence. Encouraging discrimination against fellow Texans serves no one, and with Texas' largest employers opposed to SB 3, it is sure to cause a devastating economic panic."