After largely avoiding discussions so far on proposals to regulate bathrooms, the Texas House will wade into the debate this week with a measure some are hoping will serve as an alternative to the Senate’s “bathroom bill.”
Setting aside the Senate’s proposal, the House State Affairs Committee on Wednesday will take up House Bill 2899, which will be revised during the hearing to ban municipalities and school districts from enacting or enforcing local policies that regulate bathroom use.
That would invalidate local trans-inclusive bathroom policies, including anti-discrimination ordinances meant to allow transgender people access to public bathrooms based on gender identity and some school policies meant to accommodate transgender students.
“We believe that those issues should be handled at the state level and if there is an issue that exists in the state that people need to come to the Capitol, they need to convince 76 representatives, 16 senators and one governor of what the policy needs to be,” said state Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, who authored the bill. “Until then, it’s my opinion, we don’t need to change.”
Unlike Senate Bill 6 — a legislative priority for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick which passed out of the Texas Senate in March — Simmons’ proposal does not regulate bathroom use in governments buildings and public schools and universities based on “biological sex.” And it strays from SB 6’s blanket prohibition on “political subdivisions” adopting or enforcing local bathroom regulations.
Instead, the language of Simmons’ proposal specifically focuses on discrimination protections. It reads: “Except in accordance with federal and state law, a political subdivision, including a public school district, may not enforce an order, ordinance, or other measure to protect a class of persons from discrimination to the extent that the order, ordinance, or other measure regulates access to multiple-occupancy restrooms, showers, or changing facilities.”
That would nullify parts of nondiscrimination ordinances in several Texas cities that have been in place for decades to protect certain classes of people from discrimination in public accommodations, including in the bathrooms inside businesses that serve the public. But Simmons’ proposal could go further than just pulling back those protections for transgender residents.
While Texas has no statewide public accommodation law, federal law protects people from discrimination in public accommodations based on “race, color religion or national origin.”
Some of Texas biggest cities have expanded the public accommodation provision of local anti-discrimination laws to include protections based on age, sexual orientation and veteran status. But it appears Simmons’ proposal would outlaw those sort of protections as applied to bathroom use because they go beyond federal protections.
Simmons’ focus on discrimination protections also differs from North Carolina’s law, which was recently revised amid public and economic backlash.
The North Carolina law was rewritten to no longer explicitly regulate which bathroom transgender people can use and instead more simply prohibits state agencies, municipalities and schools boards from regulating multi-stall bathrooms — leaving bathroom regulations to the state.
That revisions remain unacceptable to LGBT advocates. And the Simmons proposal — which only bans local measures that protect certain groups from discrimination — is still a no-go for groups advocating for LGBT Texans. They suggested the Simmons’ measure is actually worse than the alternative that was recently signed off on in North Carolina because they believe it leaves open the door for local policies that target marginalized groups.
“I recognize there are members in the House that are looking for some sort of alternative to Senate Bill 6, but this proposed committee substitute is not acceptable in its current form,” said Chuck Smith, executive director of Equality Texas. “This proposal literally codifies discrimination in Texas law by forbidding enforcement of policies that would protect people by preventing them from ever implementing protections in the future and by allowing discriminatory provisions to be written in.”
It remains unclear how far the Simmons proposal will go in the House and whether it’ll pick up support from Speaker Joe Straus who opposes the Senate’s proposal.
See here for the background. I repeat what I said before – this is a lousy “solution” to a non-problem. HB2899 is “better” than SB6 in the same way that the House “sanctuary cities” bill is “better” than the Senate version, which is to say it’s the difference between eating a turd sandwich on a fresh baked baguette and eating a turd sandwich on Wonder bread. We all know what the arguments are here, so let’s not waste our energy on that. The goal here is either to find something that will meet the grudging approval of the business lobby and the major sports leagues (which have already sold out in North Carolina), or to throw a bone to the Dan Patrick crowd by holding a committee hearing on something but not bringing it to the floor. I’d bet on the former before the latter, so call your House Committee on State Affairs member and let them know what you think of this. This will be heard tomorrow, so don’t wait.