Gov. Abbott Pressuring House, Senate To Pass Bathroom Bill

AUSTIN (CBS11) – Governor Greg Abbott tells CBS11 he’s pressuring the Texas House and Senate to pass a bathroom privacy bill before the regular legislative session ends Monday.

“We are so close between the House and Senate.  It’s almost inexcusable for them not to come together and get something passed.”

 Early on in the session, the Governor didn’t express his opinion on Senate Bill 6, which required transgender students to use bathrooms that matched their birth gender.

 It also required people to use the bathrooms matching their biological sex when inside government buildings, but stadiums and convention centers were exempt.

The Senate bill also wouldn’t allow local communities and school districts to pass their own bathroom policies.

On Sunday, the Texas House passed an amendment to Senate Bill 2078 that would focus only on elementary, middle and high schools. 

At a minimum, the Governor said in a one-on-one interview, he wants legislation that protects students, so that they don’t have to share bathrooms, locker rooms and showers with those of the opposite sex.

CBS11 asked him how much pressure he is putting on the House and Senate to pass a bill quickly so they avoid a special session.

He said, “For the past two months, I’ve been involved in shuttle diplomacy between the House and Senate trying to hammer out this deal.  We will continue that diplomacy as well as pressure til we get a bill passed.”

Earlier in the day, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick was asked about an earlier statement he made that he is prepared to have a special session on this issue.

Patrick said he was working with towards protecting children in schools and bathrooms.  

During the interview, Governor Abbott said he is still considering whether to sign the bill that would ban texting while driving statewide.

But his signature is not a sure thing just yet.

The Governor said, “It should pre-empt the multitude of city and county ordinances that have their own regulations on texting while driving or using a phone while driving.  I will be looking at the law to see the extent to which that is accomplished.”  Jack question:  “And if it’s not?”  Governor:  Well, it’s too early to tell, I’m going to take a look at it and I’ll give it the attention it deserves.”

Forty-four cities in Texas, including Denton and Little Elm, require any cell phone use while driving to be hands-free.

An aide to Representative Tom Craddick, R-Midland, who led the legislation through the House, said while the bill would supersede any local ordinance banning texting while driving, it would not have any impact on ordinances that require all cell phone usage to be hands-free while driving, such as those in Denton and in Little Elm. 

Governor Abbott also criticized opponents to the new law banning sanctuary cities in Texas.  “One of the most disturbing things in the aftermath of signing SB 4 is the fear-mongering going on in certain communities that harm the people they claim they are protecting.  There is nothing to fear for anyone who is not a criminal, anybody who’s not doing anything wrong.”

The city of Dallas is now considering whether to join other municipalities such as El Paso County in suing the state over its the new law.

Members of the Texas Major Cities Chiefs, including Dallas, Fort-Worth and Arlington, Houston and Austin oppose the law, saying it will make citizens less safe.

The law allows local and state law enforcement officers to ask those lawfully detained about their immigration status.

Under the law, police departments and others would not be allowed to have policies banning officers from the practice.

Many officers say they believe the law will keep crime victims and witnesses to crimes from coming forward.

But the Governor said, “We make clear that if you are a victim of a crime, if you are a witness to a crime, you have protections from being confronted by your immigration status if you report those crimes to police.”

Earlier in the day, Governor Abbott held a bill signing ceremony in his office in which the state will crack down on educators having sexual and other inappropriate relationships with students.

It also requires school district superintendents and principals to report any of these cases to the state very quickly.

Governor Abbott said, “I’m putting a stop to it.  By signing SB 7 today, the punishment is so severe, no teacher, no principal, no administrator will be able to tolerate this disgraceful conduct anymore.”

The Governor said a relatively few bad teachers are tarnishing the reputations of the state’s great educators.

State records show that during the 2015-16 school year, there were 220 educators in Texas who were under investigation for having inappropriate relationships with students.

That number keeps rising.

A CBS-11 I-Team investigation exposed this problem, called “passing the trash” nearly four years ago.

Under the new law, teachers will face losing their jobs and licenses.

If superintendents and principals don’t report these inappropriate relationships to the state, they face fines up $10,000, and if the superintendents and principals intentionally cover-up the problem, they could face jail time.

Governor Abbott says the state will keep a database on these cases.  “Yes, now that administrators have to report this information to the state, the state will keep all records about this, that we’re holding schools, principals, administrators and teachers accountable.” 

Part of the problem comes from teachers and students communicating by text and social media.

But Governor Abbott says he thinks students and teachers should still be allowed to text, but that it has to be better policed.

The new law takes effect September 1.

WEB EXTRA: Entire one-on-one interview by CBS11’s Jack Fink with Governor Abbott:

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