The Texas legislature abruptly ended its special session late Tuesday without passing a bill regulating the use of bathrooms by transgender people, a setback for Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who had called the 30-day session in large part to enact such a law.
House leaders adjourned the session a day early, and the Senate followed suit after a contentious month in which the two Republican-controlled chambers failed to agree on a number of Abbott’s priorities. By far the most closely watched was the “bathroom bill,” which sought to require public school students and others in state-owned facilities to use restrooms and locker rooms that matched the gender on their birth certificates.
A version passed out of the Senate, but it never gained traction in the House, where leaders have long objected to such a measure. House leaders blocked a version that was passed earlier this year during the regular session. The legislature is unlikely to revive the bill until it convenes again in regular session in 2019.
It brings to an end, at least for now, the latest battle to flare about the rights of transgender people to use the public restrooms of their choice. Conservatives say that letting them use their preferred facilities violates the privacy of others and gives male sexual predators a pass to enter women- and girls-only spaces. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights groups, meanwhile, accuse conservatives of playing on pernicious stereotypes of transgender people and say that barring them from the restroom they choose essentially banishes them from public life.
The debate flared most notably in North Carolina, where lawmakers last year enacted a law similar to the one that was under consideration in Texas. The law prompted several lawsuits and boycotts from celebrities, businesses and sports leagues. Under pressure, the state repealed part of the law earlier this year, leading at least some groups to end their boycott, though LGBT rights activists complained that problematic parts of the law remained on the books.
The failure of the Texas bill was met with relief by LGBT rights activists, who pledged to continue to fight such efforts in the state and nationally. They were joined by business groups in opposing the measure.
“It is now clearer than ever: nobody but a handful of extremists wants laws that discriminate — in Texas or in any state,” Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement. “We recognize that these extremists may not learn from their failures. We remain vigilant and ready to keep fighting.”
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), an outspoken proponent of the measure, accused House Speaker Joe Straus (R) of standing in the way of the will of the people of Texas. “They don’t want their children showering together, boys and girls in the 10th grade, sharing locker rooms and restrooms,” he said in a news conference. “And women want to be protected.”
The bathroom bill was the most high-profile measure under consideration during the special session, which Abbott called after the legislature failed to come to a consensus on other matters during the regular session. The legislature failed to agree on other bills, including one that would have given teachers a pay raise.
But it sent to Abbott’s desks measures he requested aimed at reining in local governments, including a bill requiring a referendum before cities can annex land. The legislature also approved a bill limiting local government’s ability to regulate tree-cutting on private property, though the measure was weaker than what Abbott requested. A number of liberal local officials had objected to those and other measures proposed by Abbott this summer, which they called a power grab aimed at curtailing local control control.
Lawmakers also approved two bills imposing new restrictions on abortion — one that adds new reporting requirements for doctors who perform abortions and one that bars private health insurance plans from covering abortion as part of their base coverage. Women now must buy separate plans if they want coverage for abortions.