- Associated Press - Thursday, May 25, 2017

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - As “bathroom bills” targeting transgender individuals falter across the U.S. - rejected even in conservative bastions like Kansas and Arkansas following the upheaval over a North Carolina law last year - Texas Republicans are doubling down on their determination and throwing the Legislature into last-minute tumult.

The resolve to make Texas only the second state to restrict bathroom access for transgender persons before Monday - when lawmakers adjourn until 2019 - is raising the possibility of a special session and exasperating business groups and LGBT rights organizations that have united in opposition for months.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said Thursday enough time remains for lawmakers to strike a deal. He broadly said Texas must address student “privacy, safety and security” but didn’t say how far a bill must go - including whether it must require transgender people to use bathrooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificate.

But passage of any version would make Texas the first state to pass a bill reminiscent of North Carolina’s controversial 2016 law that was partially repealed in March following an intense political and economic backlash. More than a dozen states this year considered bills restricting bathroom access for transgender people, including Kansas, where the GOP-controlled House this week refused to debate a “bathroom bill” amendment proposed by a freshman legislator.

It was emblematic of what LGBT rights groups say has doomed most efforts outside Texas: a lack of buy-in from Republicans in charge.

“They tended to be introduced by folks who were more extreme members of the party, were less likely to get committee hearings, less likely to move. They were much less likely to be taken seriously,” said Cathryn Oakley, senior legislative counsel for the Human Rights Campaign. “The big difference in Texas is they have been taken seriously.”

Abbott, a social conservative who is presiding over his last session before he is up for re-election in 2018, has gone against his Republican peers in calling for such a law. Governors in Arkansas and Kentucky have rebuffed the efforts as unnecessary, and South Dakota’s Republican governor vetoed a proposal in March.

They watched as Republican Pat McCrory, who signed and defended the North Carolina bill as governor, became the only incumbent governor in the U.S. to lose in the general election last year.

But Abbott - who made no mention of bathrooms while laying out his priorities in his State of the State address in January - has become vocal in the final weeks of the session.

“We want to do all we can to help women have privacy, safety and security to the fullest extent possible,” Abbott said. Opponents have argued all session that laws are already on the books that protect bathroom privacy and safety.

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BUDGET DEAL SET

Texas lawmakers say they’ve finalized a $217 billion state budget deal with only a few days left to deliver the spending bill to Gov. Greg Abbott.

The compromise announced Thursday by House and Senate budget leaders boosts funding for the state’s troubled child welfare agency but includes no new money for public schools.

Texas will also keep spending $800 million on border security despite President Donald Trump’s promises to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

A prolonged oil slump put a dent in the Texas Legislature’s spending power this year. Lawmakers agreed to use nearly $1 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to help offset some cuts.

A final vote on the budget bill will likely happen Saturday. The legislative session ends Monday.

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REMEMBERING PERRY’S FATHER

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry says his late father taught him how to be a cowboy, but “his real impact on my life was mentoring me in the art of politics.”

Perry, now U.S. energy secretary, appeared in the Texas Senate on Thursday for a ceremony that honored his father, James “Ray” Perry, a former longtime county commissioner who died late last month at age 92.

His voice cracking, Perry recalled his dad’s “snippets of wisdom.”

One happened while Perry was first running for the state Legislature from West Texas, and it was suggested that he take credit with would-be voters for an unusually heavy rains the area had then been having.

Perry remembered his father telling him not to because, if he did, he’d later get blamed when drought inevitably returned.

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ABBOTT SIGNS IMPROPER TEACHER-STUDENT RELATIONSHIPS BILL

Gov. Greg Abbott has signed into law a crackdown on inappropriate relationships between teachers and students.

The measure requires principals and superintendents to report inappropriate teacher-student relationships or face jail time and fines up to $10,000. The teacher’s family could also lose access to the teacher’s pension.

It further mandates that a teacher automatically lose his or her license if he or she has to register as a sex offender.

Teachers would also get training on how to properly handle personal boundaries and relationships with students.

The Texas Education Agency in 2016 opened 220-plus investigations involving inappropriate teacher-student relationships.

Abbott signed the bill Thursday during a ceremony in his state Capitol office and said, “Texas will protect its children from sexual predators in our classrooms.”

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BESTIALITY BILL GOES TO GOVERNOR

The Texas Legislature has approved expanded state penal codes prohibiting bestiality and sent them to Gov. Greg Abbott.

The Senate on Thursday approved changes the House made to a bill originally approved by the Senate. It seeks to formally ban “sexual assault of an animal.”

Texas already prohibits bestiality. But the bill makes it a separate crime under the penal code, defining 10 categories of offenses. Those include “contact between” peoples’ mouths or genitals and an animal’s genitals or mouth.

It further bans possessing, selling or purchasing animals for bestiality.

The bill makes those offenses state felonies. Cases involving children or an animal being injured or killed could be second-degree felonies punishable by 20 years maximum behind bars.

Abbott can sign or veto the bill, or allow it to become law automatically.

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ON DECK

Friday is the House’s last day to pass bills that originated in the House but were modified by amendments placed on them while being voted out of the Senate - likely meaning a long day. The Senate faces no such deadline, but things should be busy there, too, as Monday’s final adjournment now begins to loom.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

“He taught me how to be a cowboy, but his real impact on my life was mentoring me in the art of politics,” former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, now the U.S. energy secretary, whose voice cracked as he spoke during a ceremony honoring his father, Joseph “Ray” Perry, who died earlier this month at age 92.


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