In a lengthy, almost five-hour session in the Texas Senate, lawmakers voted 21-10 to pass Senate Bill 6 onto its next step in the Legislature.
Based on today's outcome, the bill will be passed onto the engrossment calendar and still must face its third reading, if approved—likely sometime Wednesday—it will be taken up by the House.
Debate today did not unearth any new arguments for or against the bill, with much of the talk seeking to identify the problem the bill was trying to fix, the potential discriminatory impact of the bill and women's privacy.
The majority of amendments proposed by Senate Democrats failed, with the exception of two offered by state Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, who joined Senate Republicans in approving Senate Bill 6, but his amendments gained support from Democrats.
Updated at 7:22 a.m. March 8
At about 5 a.m., after six hours of invited testimony and more than 13 hours of public testimony, the State Affairs Committee voted 7-1 to pass the bill onto the Senate floor. The only Senator opposed was Democrat Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo.
The highly anticipated bathroom bill hearing today started with a personal story from state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, about her own struggle to be included. She spoke of Title IX permitting her to participate on an even playing field in college athletics, and expressed concern that misuse of bathrooms based on biological sex would threaten those rights.
Here are the most important takeaways from the public testimony:
Those opposed to the bill expressed these main points:
- After former President Obama issued an executive order mandating public schools let students use bathrooms based on gender identity, and President Donald Trump rescinded this order, some Senate Democrats said there was no point to Senate Bill 6. Without this order, senators say Senate Bill 6 is a solution searching for a problem.
- Many individuals giving public testimony questioned why any verbiage concerning birth certificates was included in the bill. State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, asked if the intent was to keep men out of women's restrooms, why the bill would just not expressly say that.
- Senators went back and forth over terminology and whether or not a transgender woman truly qualified as a woman. As it stands, Senate Bill 6 would allow a transgender woman to use the women's restroom if her birth certificate matches that gender identity.
- State Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, asked the bill's sponsor, Kolkhorst, whether she knew of any instances of assault committed by a transgender person within one of her defined intimate spaces. She answered she did not. Without this connection, Rodriguez said he didn't understand why Senate Bill 6 was necessary.
This is how invited testimony stacked up:
- Invited testimony started with a large number of individuals testifying in support of Senate Bill 6. Many of those testifying in support said the bill is not about transgender individuals but rather about a woman's right to privacy.
- The first two individuals to speak told the committee about their experience with assault by men saying that the mere presence of men in women's restrooms could queue traumatic flashbacks for assault survivors.
- North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest testified in favor of the bill. He bolstered his claims by listing off his home state's economic successes in recent years but did acknowledge that some events had moved from the state because of North Carolina's House Bill 2. Forest also acknowledged that the passage of the bill could have been a factor in the loss of the previously Republican-held governor's seat in the most recent election.
- Senators paused when a Fort Worth pastor and transgender man spoke at the hearing, saying because he is still listed as a woman on his birth certificate, he would be required to use the women's restroom, in spite of having a full beard. Senators seemed puzzled by this question.
- Colt Keo-Meier, a transgender man and doctor who serves for transgender individuals started a discourse on gender identity with senators. He spoke about how individuals undergo the transition process and the difference between gender and sex.
Here is what members of the public had to say:
- More than 430 people signed up to testify on the issue. The committee's staff divided speakers into 27 groups, and by 8:30 p.m. the committee had heard seven total groups.
- Tourism industry representatives from four of the five biggest Texas cities—Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio—testified against Senate Bill 6 because they believe their cities would lose revenue.
- Chris Wallace, president of Texas Association of Business, the group that issued a report claiming Senate Bill 6 could cost the state $8.5 billion, testified to the committee Tuesday night. Several Republican senators took turns poking holes in both the report and Wallace's testimony. The entire exchange took the better part of an hour.
- At the end of public testimony, unofficial counts had roughly 250 witnesses opposed to Senate Bill 6, and 30 in favor.
- Houston ISD trustee Anna Eastman represented the only school district who testified, saying HISD opposed Senate Bill 6.
- Garcia remained with the committee throughout the entire day, despite not having an official vote.
Three Republican senators have not sounded off on the bill. Here's where they stand:
- All but three Republican senators of the 20 total are listed as co-authors on Senate Bill 6. State Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, lend his support to the bill, leaving questions of whether or not there is sufficient support—19 votes are needed—to bring the bill on to the Senate floor. Tuesday, state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, and state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, seemed supportive of the bill through their comments and questions. The only other Republican Senator who is not a co-author is Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo.
- Nelson said that she thought the issue would have garnered more bipartisan support, saying it seemed to focus more on women's privacy than transgender issues.
Here is what would happen if the bill was not passed:
- Everything would continue as normal, with businesses, schools and political subdivisions able to make their own non-discrimination ordinances and policies.
- As it stands, videotaping someone in a bathroom is against the law, as is assault in any setting. These offenses would continue to be illegal.
- A man entering a woman's bathroom, and vice versa, is not illegal. "There's obviously lewdness, but if you did not act in any way, there is nothing I could do about that," Kolkhorst said.
- Patrick said that the issue of bathroom bills should be taken up some time in the next week. After March 10—60-days into session—any issue can be taken up on the Senate floor.
- During a House session Tuesday, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus commented that he wasn't the biggest fan of the bathroom bill. If the Senate votes to pass SB 6 out of the upper chamber, the House will undergo the same process.