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Committee sends Texas "bathroom bill" to full Senate

After 13-plus hours of emotional testimony, largely in opposition, the Senate State Affairs Committee voted 7-1 early Wednesday morning to advance the so-called Texas “bathroom bill" — a legislative priority of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Transgender activists protest on the Capitol Extension Rotunda prior to a press event opposing passage of SB 6 the bathroom bill on March 7, 2017.  Several hundred people have signed up to support and oppose the bill, one of Governor Abbott's emergency items in the 85th Legislature.

Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

After 13-plus hours of emotional testimony, largely in opposition, the Senate State Affairs Committee voted early Wednesday morning to advance the so-called Texas “bathroom bill" to the full chamber. The vote was 8-1. That included state Sen. Charles Schwertner who was not present at the meeting but asked to be shown as voting yes. State Sen. Judith Zaffirini voted against. 

The vote on Senate Bill 6 — which came at the end of a marathon hearing that began Tuesday morning — means the controversial legislation has cleared its first hurdle in the upper chamber and can be considered by the full Senate, where a majority of conservatives and one Democrat have already signed on to the measure.

The legislation would require transgender individuals to use the multi-stall bathrooms and locker rooms in schools and other government buildings that match their “biological sex,” and it would nix local anti-discrimination laws meant to allow transgender residents to use bathrooms that match their gender identity.

The committee voted on a revised version of the bill submitted by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham that removed a section that would have increased penalties for certain crimes committed in a bathroom or changing facility. It also added a new “legislative findings” section that would write into statute the reasoning behind the legislation. The regulations in the bill related to bathroom use remained largely unchanged.

Since it was unveiled in January, the legislation has sparked fierce debate in Texas over concerns about unconstitutional discrimination against transgender individuals and the potential economic impact in some of the state’s biggest cities. Proponents of the bill have defended the legislation, saying it will increase privacy and safety and keep men out of women’s bathrooms.

Those arguments were repeated during the lengthy public hearing, dominated by impassioned testimonials from transgender people and their families. More than 430 people had signed up to testify on the legislation. By the end of the hearing, more than 200 people had testified against the bill while about 30 spoke in favor of the legislation.

Under Senate rules, 19 senators are needed to bring up a bill in the full chamber. Between the Republicans signed on as co-authors and the support of Democratic state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., the number of senators on record supporting SB 6 is at 18. But during Tuesday’s committee hearing, two of the three Republicans who had not yet endorsed the bill — state Sens. Joan Huffman of Houston and Jane Nelson of Flower Mound — seemed to be in favor and ultimately voted for the bill.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — who has designated the legislation as a one of his priorities — said on Tuesday that the full Senate is set to take up the measure next week.

It remains unclear how far the legislation will get once it's sent over to the Texas House. On Tuesday, House Speaker Joe Straus reiterated that he's "not a fan of the bill."

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Politics State government 85th Legislative Session Bathroom bill Texas Legislature