- Associated Press - Sunday, May 28, 2017

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Texas’ legislative session was winding down Sunday, with an all but dead “bathroom bill” targeting transgender people caught in a clash between mainstream Republicans and the most conservative wing of the party that dominates politics in the nation’s second-largest state.

Lawmakers were resolving last-minute issues ahead of Monday’s final adjournment - but their focus was already shifting to whether Gov. Greg Abbott would order them back to work if a law, like the one that caused national uproar and costly boycotts when it was approved last year in North Carolina, doesn’t pass in Texas.

“I think it’s dead for the regular session between now and tomorrow,” said Rep. Ron Simmons, a Republican from Carrollton in suburban Dallas who pushed a version of the bathroom bill in the Texas House.

A Democrat hasn’t won statewide office since 1994 in Texas, the longest political losing streak in the nation, and the state so relishes small government that its Legislature only convenes every other year. That means state lawmakers won’t meet again until 2019, unless Abbott calls a special session, which lasts 30 days and can cover any issue the governor chooses.

Abbott has said previously he’s hesitant to drag legislators back to work over any issue, but he’s also bucked other GOP governors in supporting legislation that could impose transgender restroom restrictions.

Abbott spokesman John Wittman declined comment Sunday, referring queries to a statement he released Friday night saying: “The taxpayers deserve to have the Legislature finish their work on time.”

Tensions between the state Senate and House - both Republican-controlled - have been building for months but boiled over during the final weekend. The more conservative Senate passed a comprehensive law months ago compelling transgender Texans to use public restrooms corresponding to the gender on their birth certificates.

The House last weekend approved a scaled-back measure applying only to public schools, which educate roughly 5.3 million students, more than any other state except California. It bars transgender students from choosing the bathroom they use, but allows schools to direct them to separate, single occupancy facilities.

The Senate rejected the House version as too watered down. But Republican House Speaker Joe Straus, who has long opposed the bathroom bill as potentially bad for Texas’ economy, said his chamber would go no further. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a former radio talk show host who oversees the Senate and loves picking conservative fights, responded by imploring Abbott to call a special session.

Adding to the tensions was a Saturday letter from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Apple CEO Tim Cook and a dozen other tech industry giants. They urged abandoning the bathroom bill. The NFL and NBA have hinted that approving it could cost Texas future top sporting events - even though Houston successfully hosted the Super Bowl in February. Leading businesses and lobbyists have also rejected the would-be law, and top Hollywood and music stars have hinted at state boycotts should it pass.

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BILL WOULD EXPAND BOARD OF EDUCATION TEXTBOOK VETO POWER

The Texas Legislature has approved giving the state’s often-combative Board of Education broader veto power over textbooks used across the state.

A bill passed in its final form by the state House 78-62 on Sunday lets the board’s 15 elected members reject textbook content deemed not “suitable for the subject and grade level.” It now goes to Gov. Greg Abbott who can sign or veto it, or allow it to automatically become law.

Critics worry the proposal weakens limits in place since 1995, which only allow the board to seek edits to textbooks for factual errors or to better align with Texas curriculum.

Even with those, board ideological battles over textbooks have long made national headlines.

Texas’ textbook market is large enough to affect textbook content in other states.

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VOTER ID BILL HEADS TO ABBOTT

The GOP-controlled Texas Legislature has approved a weakened voter ID law and sent it to Gov. Greg Abbott after a judge twice ruled that the original version deliberately tried to suppress minority voters.

The changes given final approval Sunday expanded the list of acceptable IDs first devised in the original 2011 law to include passport cards and recently expired identifications. Still, gun licenses remain acceptable while college IDs aren’t.

The new law would let people without an ID cast a ballot by signing an affidavit. But anyone lying on affidavits could be charged with a felony.

In April, a federal judge reaffirmed that the original law intentionally discriminated. Democrats now want the judge to force Texas to get federal permission before changing election laws under the Voting Rights Act.

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LEGISLATURE APPROVES ‘POLICE INTERACTION’ PROPOSAL

The Texas Legislature has voted to require all public high schools to provide instruction on how to best interact with law enforcement in traffic stops and other situations.

The bill by Democratic Sens. Royce West of Dallas and John Whitmire of Houston is in response to a series of violent encounters between police and the public that made national news.

The sponsors want to teach students what’s expected of them when interacting with police. It also requires drivers’ education courses to include information on how to act during traffic stops.

Also mandated would be instruction for police officers on their responsibilities during an encounter.

The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Greg Abbott, who can sign or veto it. If he takes no action, it becomes law automatically.

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ON DECK

Monday is the 140th and final day of the legislative session. Both the House and Senate should have relatively light schedules, and when they are finished, lawmakers won’t convene anew until January 2019 - unless Gov. Greg Abbott opts to call a special session.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

“For the record, patience is a virtue that I do not have. But I hope I’ve been polite” - Sen. Judith Zaffirini, arguing Sunday evening with Houston Republican Sen. Paul Betancourt over a bill that would excuse some poor Texans from paying qualifying court-ordered fines in full.


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