Amid concerns about rolling back local protections for vulnerable Texans and dire economic fallout, a panel of House lawmakers considered a measure into the early hours of Thursday morning that some are hoping will serve as an alternative approach to regulating bathroom use for transgender Texans.
But if the large majority of testimony against the measure serves as any indication, the House proposal will likely continue to face fierce opposition from LGBT advocates and the Texas business community.
Setting aside a more restrictive Senate proposal, the House State Affairs Committee took up House Bill 2899 by Republican state Rep. Ron Simmons of Carrollton. As expected, Simmons revised his original bill in committee to narrow its scope to banning municipalities and school districts from enacting or enforcing trans-inclusive bathroom policies.
“This issue needs to be the same in Austin as it in Abilene. It needs to be the same in Houston as it is in Hutto,” Simmons told the committee. “What we’re saying is this needs to be handled at the state level.”
Unlike the upper chamber’s Senate Bill 6, Simmons’ proposal does not regulate bathroom use in government buildings, public schools and universities based on “biological sex.” And it doesn’t include a general prohibition on municipalities adopting or enforcing local bathroom regulations.
Instead, the language in 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 because Simmons’ proposal applies to classes of people that aren’t already protected in federal or state law, opponents said it could go further than just pulling back those protections for transgender residents and extend to protections enacted by some of the state’s biggest cities to cover residents based on age, sexual orientation and veteran status.
While Simmons denied that his legislation would have that effect, El Paso County Commissioner David Stout warned the committee that the bill could in fact undo protections for classes of people covered by expanded local policies.
“Currently, federal law does not provide for protection from discrimination on the basis of veteran status, familial status, marital status, sexual orientation or gender identity, and this bill puts all of those classes of people in danger but especially our constituents in the LGBTQ community,” Stout told the committee.
You know the drill by now, so go read the rest. I actually agree in a sense with Rep. Simmons that non-discrimination should be seen as a state issue, but only if by that one means that the state should have a robust non-discrimination law in place to ensure that people in Austin and Alice and Abilene and Arlington and Angleton and everywhere else is treated as a full and equal person. Until such time as the state is willing to do that, then the next best thing is for individual cities to do what they can to pick up the slack. That’s not what HB2899 is about, and as such it deserves no more respect or support than the properly reviled SB6. The bill was left pending in committee, and that’s where it should stay. The Statesman, the Texas Observer, and the Dallas Observer have more.