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Texas 'Bathroom Bill' Is Circling the Drain

Texas protesters

Business opposition and citizen protests have helped stall the bill, but with six days left in the special legislative session, activists say it's no time to stop the pressure.

Amid business opposition and citizen protests, Texas's anti-transgender "bathroom bill" appears to be circling the drain.

Senate Bill 6, the so-called Texas Privacy Act, was OK'd by the state Senate two weeks ago, but it hasn't even had a committee hearing in the House, and with the legislature's special session set to close next Wednesday, it is unlikely to, according to media reports.

Rep. Byron Cook, chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, said this week he had no plans to hold a hearing on the bill, which must pass his committee before going to the full House.

"Quite candidly, at this point I don't know what a hearing would add when we already had hearings" during the regular session, he told Austin TV station KXAN. In that session, the bill passed the Senate but stalled in the House. Some supporters are still holding out hope that it could be attached to other legislation, but that seems unlikely as well.

The testimony during the regular session was heavily against SB 6, which 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. It would also override portions of city ordinances that allow trans people to use the restrooms of their choice.

The bill was a priority for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who sets the agenda for the special session, and Gov. Greg Abbott supported it as well; both are conservative Republicans. But moderate GOPers, such as Cook and House Speaker Joe Straus, oppose it.

LGBT rights groups naturally oppose it, and they have organized many protests at the capitol during the special session. Law enforcement organizations and some faith groups have spoken out against it as well. But perhaps the tipping point against the legislation has been opposition from big business.

"Corporate America is stepping forward, speaking loudly about the fact that this will have a chilling effect on business opportunity in this state," Cook recently told The New York Times. "I'm hearing from many major corporations about this bill and the effect it will have."

Companies that have stated their opposition include IBM, Amazon, Apple, Dell, Microsoft, Intel, Capital One, Ben & Jerry's, Facebook, American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines. The overall list of opponents encompasses more than 650 businesses, chambers of commerce, and convention and visitors' bureaus, according to the Texas Association of Business, which has organized a campaign against the bill with a coalition called Keep Texas Open for Business.

"We do not want to do anything to tarnish Texas's brand," Chris Wallace, the association's president, told the Times.

More sweeping legislation on the same issue, North Carolina's House Bill 2, tarnished that state's brand when it was passed into law last year. Some businesses canceled plans to expand in the state, and several major sporting and entertainment events withdrew as well. The law has now been partially repealed.

Citizens have also made clear it's not all about business. "I don't want my child to be a statistic of the 2017 special session," Kimberly Shappley, the mother of a transgender daughter, said at a protest this week, the Times reports.

And Straus has gone on record as saying he doesn't want to be responsible for the suicide of a single Texan, as trans people are at high risk of suicide, especially when not affirmed in their gender identity.

Supporters of the bill have used the usual talking points about the possibility of assault on women and children by men gaining access to restrooms or changing rooms by pretending to be transgender, but opponents have pointed out that this is a nonexistent problem.

"I'm not sure that the legislation ... that's been proposed accomplishes anything that would be beneficial to the state of Texas," Cook told KXAN. "It seems to be a diversion from the real issues that Texans face."

Still, Equality Texas, the state's main LGBT rights group, is urging opponents to keep up the pressure. The House is also sitting on two other "bathroom bills," the group notes, and Abbott could even call another special session. It's encouraging citizens to send messages of opposition through its website. "We have got to keep pressuring lawmakers from now until the minute they gavel out," CEO Chuck Smith wrote on the site.

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