With the Legislature scheduled to adjourn Monday, the clock is ticking down on a proposed Texas bathroom bill stalled by infighting among Republicans — including some concerned about a backlash against the state’s NFL franchises.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, has called for a special legislative session if lawmakers are unable to come to a compromise before the regular session ends. In a press conference Friday, he blamed House Speaker Joe Straus, a Republican, for blocking the bathroom bill.
“We were willing to negotiate, we were willing to work, but he laid down the gauntlet tonight,” said Mr. Patrick, flanked by Republican lawmakers. “And I don’t think the people of Texas — and, I hope, the members of the House — are going to tolerate one man standing alone behind a microphone telling his members what they’re going to do or telling the people what they can’t have.”
The standstill has come as the National Football League and the National Basketball Association have indicated a bill that targets the transgendered could cost the state’s franchises the opportunity to host special events — including the Super Bowl. On Saturday, Apple CEO Tim Cook and a dozen other tech industry giants sent lawmakers a letter urging them to drop the bill.
Lawmakers have floated several versions of the bathroom bill to try to reach a compromise before the end of the session. The Legislature meets only every two years and is not scheduled to do so again until 2019.
The more conservative Senate passed a comprehensive bathroom bill, Senate Bill 6, that would regulate intimate facilities in public buildings on the basis of biological sex and nullify local ordinances that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity.
The upper chamber approved that legislation in March on a 21-10 vote, but it has failed to gain traction in the House.
The House, meanwhile, included an amendment to a school safety bill, Senate Bill 2078, to require school districts to provide single-occupancy bathrooms and changing rooms to students who do not identify as their biological sex.
The bill passed in the House last week on a 94-50 vote, but conservatives have criticized the amendment for not going far enough.
Jonathan Saenz, president of Texas Values, called the amendment an “insufficient solution to the growing problems and threats to privacy for our children in public bathrooms and locker rooms.”
The Senate asked a conference committee to alter the amendment’s language, but Mr. Straus said the House won’t be taking up the issue again.
“The House will not appoint conferees on Senate Bill 2078,” the speaker said at a press conference Friday. “If the Senate wants to pass a bathroom bill, it can concur with the bill that we passed earlier this week. The House has compromised enough on this issue. It’s absurd that bathroom bills have taken on greater urgency than fixing our school finance system.”
The House also briefly considered a compromise bill mirroring the one that repealed the bathroom bill in North Carolina.
HB 2889 would have nullified local nondiscrimination protections that go further than the standard established at the state level, effectively prohibiting regulation of restrooms on the basis of gender identity.
Despite receiving support from 80 members in the House, HB 2899 stalled in committee and never received a vote on the floor.
Mr. Patrick said the House should at least pass that version of the bathroom bill. He pointed to its broad support in the chamber and the stated willingness of Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, to sign it.
“Most importantly, besides 80 co-authors, this issue of Texas privacy has the support of the overwhelming majority of people in Texas: Republican and Democrat; all groups of folks rural, urban, suburban; black, white and brown,” Mr. Patrick said Friday. “They don’t want their children showering together — boys and girls in the 10th grade — or sharing locker rooms or restrooms.”
The lieutenant governor has also called for a special session to pass property tax relief legislation.
Several House members believe the special session is inevitable at this point. “I’m still hoping that we can come to some solutions that everybody is OK with, but I’m expecting one, yes,” Rep. Bryan Hughes, Mineola Republican, told The Texas Tribune.
But the governor has expressed his desire for both chambers to come to a compromise without resorting to drastic measures.
“The main thing I want to see is the House and Senate coming together,” Mr. Abbott told reporters on Thursday.
Mr. Saenz said the debate over the bathroom bill should have never come down to the last minute.
“The Texas Senate sent a privacy bill to the House in March with plenty of time to find a solution to a growing problem,” he said in a statement. “Speaker Straus has no one to blame but himself if a special session is called on privacy and property tax relief.”