- Associated Press - Sunday, May 21, 2017

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - A transgender “bathroom bill” reminiscent of one in North Carolina that caused a national uproar now appears to be on a fast-track to becoming law in Texas - though it may only apply to public schools.

A broader proposal mandating that virtually all transgender people in the country’s second-largest state use public restrooms according to the gender on their birth certificates sailed through the Texas Senate months ago. A similar measure had stalled in the House, but supporters late Sunday night used an amendment to tack school bathroom limits onto a separate and otherwise unrelated bill covering campus emergency operation plans.

Republican Rep. Chris Paddie authored the hotly-debated language, saying it had “absolutely no intent” to discriminate. Under it, transgender students would not be permitted to use their chosen bathroom but could be directed to separate, single-occupancy restrooms.

“It’s absolutely about child safety,” said Paddie, from the East Texas town of Marshall. “This is about accommodating all kids.”

His change passed 91-50. Final House approval should come Monday, sending the modified bill to the Senate, which should easily support it. Texas’ legislative session ends May 29, but that’s plenty of time to approve transgender bathroom legislation- even if it’s scaled-back enough to only affect the state’s roughly 5.3 million public school students, and not the general public.

“This amendment is the bathroom bill and the bathroom bill is an attack on transgender people,” said Rep. Joe Moody, an El Paso Democrat. “Some people don’t want to admit that because they are ashamed, and this is shameful.”

A small group of Democratic women legislators went into the men’s restroom just off the House floor before debate began in protest. With Republicans enjoying solid majorities in both of Texas’ legislative chambers, though, such opposition was purely symbolic.

Houston Democratic Rep. Senfronia Thompson, one of the House’s longest-serving and most-respected members, likened the new language to when restrooms nationwide were segregated by race.

“Bathrooms divided us then and bathrooms divide us now. Separate but equal is not equal at all,” Thompson said, drawing floor applause.

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‘RELIGIOUS REFUSAL’ OF ADOPTIONS

Texas Republicans pushed closer to a law that allows publicly-funded foster care and adoption agencies to refuse to place children with non-Christian, unmarried or gay prospective parents because of religious objections.

The Senate gave preliminary approval Sunday night. A final vote, possibly Monday, would send it to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott for his consideration.

The “Freedom to Serve Children Act” has received a late push in the Republican-dominated Legislature ahead of the May 29 end of the session. Conservatives have made creating exemptions for sincerely held religious beliefs a major theme this year, with tea-party-backed lawmakers inserting language protecting them in myriad bills, ranging from rules for the practice of law to pharmacists.

The private foster care and adoption organizations, which are paid by the state to place children with families, make up about 25 percent of the agencies working in Texas. Those groups say they face a threat of lawsuits for exercising their religious beliefs if they don’t get specific state legal protection.

Many Texas adoption agencies admit they don’t work with adoptive parents who are single, gay or non-Christian, and the bill could keep them from being sued. Supporters of the measure say LGBT couples will be able to find agencies without religious objections.

“This bill doesn’t prohibit particular groups from adopting, it doesn’t establish one faith over another,” said bill sponsor Sen. Charles Perry of Lubbock.

The bill would be the nation’s second allowing state-funded adoption agencies to reject families on religious grounds. South Dakota passed similar legislation in March.

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TEXTING WHILE DRIVING BAN HEADED TO ABBOTT

A statewide ban on texting while driving is headed to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk after being defeated repeatedly over the last decade.

The House first approved a ban in March. The Senate version pre-empted local texting bans while allowing for using satellite navigation systems.

House lawmakers then voted Sunday night to accept those changes. Abbott hasn’t said if he’ll sign the bill, though it’ll become law automatically unless he vetoes it.

Forty-six states already have laws against texting while driving. Texas passed one in 2011, but then-Gov. Rick Perry voted it.

The latest attempt drew new momentum after a March church bus crash killed 13 people. Federal investigators say the driver of the pickup truck that hit the bus said he was checking for a text when the crash occurred.

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ON DECK

The House is gaveling back in at 10 a.m. on Monday after a busy weekend during which its members went a long way toward defusing talk of a special session, advancing legislation on property tax limits and public bathroom use by transgender people. The Senate worked late into the night on Sunday, but will be back at it Monday, too.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

“Some of these kids, believe it or not, will simply not use the restroom and wait, and that’s not helpful to their bodies,” - Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, who was opposing Sunday’s bathroom bill amendment.

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