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On day 2 of session, Texas House gets an early taste of "bathroom bill" fight

State Rep. Matt Schaefer, a Tyler Republican, proposed a rule Wednesday requiring people in the Capitol to use bathrooms corresponding to their biological sex during a House floor debate.

State Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, on the House floor on Jan. 11, 2017.

It’s only the second day of the 85th Legislature in Austin, but lawmakers in the House already found themselves sparring over who is allowed to use which bathroom under the pink dome.

During a House floor debate on House Resolution 3, a standard housekeeping resolution that sets the rules for the people with access to the House chamber as well as salaries for certain Capitol employees, state Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, offered an amendment that would restrict people in the Capitol to using bathrooms that correspond to their biological sex.

The amendment came amid a controversy brewing over Senate bill 6, by state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham. That bill would require transgender people to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings and public universities based on their “biological sex” and would pre-empt local nondiscrimination ordinances that allow transgender Texans to use the bathroom that corresponds with their identity. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who oversees the Senate, has identified the bill as one of his priorities for the session.

House Administration committee Chairman Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, wasted no time Wednesday in employing a parliamentary maneuver called a point of order aimed at scuttling Schaefer's proposal. Geren argued that the amendment wasn’t germane, or relevant, enough to the resolution. He noted that the State Preservation Board, not House rules, decides the policies for the Capitol.

After a delay on the House floor, the amendment was eventually withdrawn and Geren’s resolution passed with 145 members voting for it. Four members were absent.

The House scuffle could have served as a test vote of the lower chamber's views on the bathroom issue. House Speaker Joe Straus has downplayed the urgency of the bathroom legislation, saying it's not "the most urgent concern of mine." And on Tuesday, in his opening remarks of the session, he appeared to take a veiled jab at the bill, telling members to focus on policies that "invite economic activity" to the state and "not turn it away." 

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Courts Criminal justice Politics 85th Legislative Session Bathroom bill Texas House of Representatives