The Texas Senate, hoping to resurrect its versions of bathroom and property tax proposals dear to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, grafted both of them onto unrelated county affairs legislation early Wednesday and tentatively voted to send the package back to the House.
The House can reject the legislation outright, or offer to go to a conference committee to try to work out the differences. Patrick has threatened to kill must-pass legislation in order to get his way on the two issues — an action that would force lawmakers into a 30-day special session with an agenda set by Gov. Greg Abbott. They were among 48 legislative additions to a House bill and part of a late effort to save Senate legislation that didn't survive a Tuesday House deadline.
But in light those amendments, bill author Democratic state Rep. Garnet Coleman of Houston said he plans to kill the bill altogether when it comes back to the House.
“The bill is dead. I don’t need it,” Coleman said of his legislation, an omnibus county affairs measure. “They spent two hours on a bill that I was never going to pass if they did these things.”
The differences on the bathroom bill are substantial. The Senate would require transgender Texans to use the restrooms in publicly owned buildings that match their biological sex and would bar local governments from adopting or maintaining their own laws on the subject. The House's proposed compromise — which the Senate plans to reject — would apply only to elementary and secondary schools; after it passed last weekend, Patrick and others criticized it as a change that does very little.
The main difference on property taxes is whether to require local governments to hold automatic tax rate elections whenever they have proposed property revenue increases of 5 percent or more. The House version left in place current law that does not require such rollback elections, but allows voters to petition for one when revenues increase 8 percent.
In the early morning hours on Wednesday, the Senate adopted both the bathroom and property tax amendments to House Bill 4180 on votes of 21-10. The Senate, however, did not appear to have the votes to immediately advance the bill out of the chamber, a parliamentary move it can make if a measure has enough support.
“It looks like you’re one vote short, so we can do it tomorrow,” Patrick told state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, the bill’s Senate sponsor.
The Senate had adopted the amendments with little debate or discussion. “This is the process that we’re at in looking at vehicles to move bills that have otherwise died,” Kolkhorst said as she accepted an amendment by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, to tack the property tax bill — Senate Bill 2 — on to HB 4180.
When it came to the bathroom bill amendment, Kolkhorst acknowledged House inaction on her more restrictive version of the bill, Senate Bill 6.
"I’ve looked for days for some vehicles to put this amendment on, understanding that Senate Bill 6 would not be heard in the House,” she said. "And there was no other vehicles to put this on, and this one, I think, is germane."
A final vote in the Senate is futile, Coleman said. After the Senate used a catch-all county affairs bill as a vehicle for an anti-LGBT measure at the end of the 2015 session, Coleman said he made sure this year's bill contained nothing he cared about in case lawmakers attempted something similar.
As the bill author, Coleman could request a conference committee on the legislation to iron out changes made by the Senate, but the Houston Democrat — who is staunchly opposed to measures that would negatively affect the LGBT community — said the House won’t take up the legislation.
"What they thought was that I had something invested in the bill and I didn’t," he said.