AUSTIN - After four and a half hours of debate, the Texas Senate voted to tentatively pass Senate Bill 6 (SB6), commonly known as the bathroom bill, Tuesday.
Senator Lois Kolkhorst's (R-Brenham) bill will require people go by the sex on their birth certificate when using restrooms, locker rooms and showers in government owned facilities and public schools and universities. Kolkhorst says the intent is to protect women and children.
"I've been subjected to many jokes, everybody snickering and talking about the bathroom bill. They've made light of the issue, accusing us of wasting time," Kolkhorst said while introducing the bill on the Senate floor. "I will tell you as a woman, this is not a joke."
Opponents argue the bill discriminates against transgender Texans by forcing them to go against their gender identity and use restrooms according to their birth certificate sex.
Senator Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) said that could cause an entirely new set of issues.
"Your birth certificate says you're a female but you look very much like a man, wouldn't your bill unnecessarily create a problem that doesn't exist today?" Menendez asked Kolkhorst, referencing two transgender pastors who were born women but are men with full beards.
"In 2007, a bill that I carried where an amendment was put on that allowed you to change your birth certificates, that is the remedy to that," Kolkhorst answered.
Both Senators John Whitmire (D-Houston) and Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) countered that point. Whitmire said in Harris County, judges have denied birth certificate changes in several cases. Garcia added that the cost to biologically change one's sex is also a barrier and is the reason that only one percent of transgender Texans have been able to change their birth certificates.
Kolkhorst said the need for SB6 is a problem created by Washington DC, specifically a letter sent to schools from former President Barack Obama's administration that discussed gender identity. President Donald Trump's administration has rescinded the letter.
Senator Carols Uresti (D-San Antonio) told Kolkhorst SB6 will have "unintended consequences" that concern him, mainly how transgender children will be treated in school and the impact on the economy.
Uresti said San Antonio has already lost $3.1M from conferences pulling out of the city over SB6 and that the NCAA has warned Texas it will not do business in a state with bills it deems discriminatory, such as SB6.
After North Carolina passed a similar bathroom bill, the NCAA pulled tournaments from the state. Kolkhorst said she has talked with leaders in the NCAA to reinforce the provision in the bill that gives organizations leasing government facilities the authority to regulate the restrooms of that facility.
Still, Senator Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso) read from the NCAA's handbook, citing its policy about transgender athletes. He asked Kolkhorst if she realized SB6 is a direct violation of their policy, to which she responded yes.
Political observers like the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Bud Kennedy said there could be an economic impact, but that it won't be nearly as drastic as estimates like the eight billion dollar figure circulated by the Texas Association of Businesses a few months ago.
"A lot of the state economic impacts are overblown but Texas could miss out on some major events," said Kennedy.
He added it's unlikely the bill gains traction in the Texas House, where leadership has been vocal about making other issues the priority during the session's remaining two months.
"They only want to talk about the budget, child services [...] they don't want to talk about the political campaigns coming over from the Senate," said Kennedy.
Senator Menendez and others also brought up the other bills already on the books in Texas that prohibit assaults, assaults in restrooms and men showing themselves to women in restrooms.
Kolkhorst said while those laws do exist, they are not specific to bathrooms and said the legislature should be giving guidance to schools that are now making their own policies when it comes to transgender students using restrooms.
Whitmire also noted suicide rates among transgender Texans and the difficulties they face.
"How do you have a transgender woman, that's just as feminine as any woman on the Senate floor, and has been so for decades, how would we operate under your law that would make that feminine woman go to a men's restroom?" Whitmire said.
"I'm prepared to stand here til hell freezes over to get an answer to solve what I think is a horrible dilemma," he added.
Several senators also questioned enforcement of the bill. Kolkhorst said there will not be "bathroom police" or someone checking birth certificates at the door, but said now people can call police into restrooms if they see someone of the opposite sex inside to lawfully remove them.
Enforcement of the bill is mainly for schools and government offices who can be fined for not complying.
Senators tried to add in 22 amendments to the bill, all but three failed and those three were adopted by the author.
The Senate tentatively passed the bill with a vote of 21-10 with Senator Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) being the only democrat to vote for the bill.
The Senate is expected to take a final vote on Wednesday, which will send the bill to the House of Representatives where it has an uphill fight. Speaker of the House Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) told KVUE News he is not a fan of the bill.
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