The growing list of public officials who oppose Republicans' efforts to regulate bathroom use for transgender Texans now includes law enforcement.
Police chiefs from three of the five biggest cities in the state gathered at the Texas Capitol on Tuesday to spurn proponents' claims that such legislation is needed to protect privacy, arguing that proposals being considered by the Legislature are discriminatory, won't keep people safe and would divert law enforcement resources.
"It may be great political theater," said Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, "but it is bad on public safety."
The police chiefs were joined by public school officials, advocates for sexual assault survivors, representatives for the Harris County and El Paso sheriff's offices, the Corpus Christi ISD chief of police and other members of the law enforcement community.
"If a bill like this were to be passed that would pull police officers' time away from combating violent crime into enforcing a bathroom bill, it makes communities less safe," said Austin Police Chief Brian Manley. "It is time not spent ensuring community safety."
Law enforcement's denouncement of the bathroom bill came on the same day the Texas Senate is expected to give initial approval to it. The measure under consideration would restrict bathroom use in schools and local government buildings and nix parts of local nondiscrimination ordinances meant to allow transgender residents to use public bathrooms of their choice. Similar proposals have been filed in the House.
Abbott reiterated his call for the measure on Tuesday, announcing that the "privacy protection legislation is generating growing support across Texas." In a press release, representatives from the Texas Home School Coalition, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and others voiced their support for regulating bathroom access.
"Parents need reassurances that their children are safe and protected in all circumstances while at public school, including in the restrooms and locker rooms," Dana Hodges, state director of Concerned Women for America of Texas, said in a statement.
Proponents of the bill have argued that the bathroom restrictions are needed to deter sexual predators from using trans-inclusive policies to enter bathrooms of the opposite sex. But law enforcement officials representing cities where officials have enacted policies to outline transgender residents' right to use public bathrooms of their choice said on Tuesday that there's simply no evidence to back up those claims.
"I asked my department to go through the record. What we found is this: There were no known incidents of bathroom assaults performed by men posing as transgender women," San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said Tuesday. "I am a believer that if you propose a bill to address a criminal justice concern, it is important to determine if there is an actual problem you are trying to solve."
Corpus Christi ISD chief of police Kirby Warnke added: "School districts face multiple issues that the Legislature could help us with, but the bathroom bill is not one of them."
The law enforcement officials' remarks on Tuesday marked their biggest foray into the debate since it first revved up at the Capitol earlier this year. They join LGBT advocates, school district superintendents, teacher groups, county and city officials across the state, major corporations and tourism officials in opposing the bathroom restrictions.
But their rejection is unlikely to sway the Republican majority in the Senate, where the issue has been catalogued by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick as a top priority.
During the regular legislative session, efforts to regulate bathroom use stalled in the House; Speaker Joe Straus, a San Antonio Republican, has remained steadfast in his opposition to such proposals. Gov. Greg Abbott put the bathroom bill back on the legislative table by adding it to lawmakers' agenda for the current special session.