AUSTIN (CBS11) – Bathroom privacy bills proposed at the Texas Capitol are making national headlines.
The legislation is among 20 items to be debated during the special session of the Texas legislature that began Tuesday.
On the steps of the Capitol, multiple groups held a rally called One Texas Resistance and protested bathroom privacy legislation and other policies backed by Republicans.
The Texas Senate is expected to pass a bathroom privacy bill, but House Representatives say they don’t know if a similar bill will pass their chamber.
The man who controls legislation in the House is Speaker Joe Straus, who strongly opposes the bill, which never made it out of a House committee during the regular session.
Representative Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, says he hopes the results are different during the special session.
He has authored two bills and says he’s working to have the full House vote on either of them.
A lot has to happen first.
Simmons says, “What an author can do and what I’m going to continue to do is work the floor, is to make sure people understand the bill, encourage them to talk to the Speaker’s office and ask the Speaker for them to refer the bill to committee.”
From there, he says he wants a hearing held and for the bill to make it out of committee.
Representative Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, says he’s hoping the bill goes nowhere. “I’m hopeful and I believe that Joe Straus will do everything in his power to keep that from coming to the floor for a vote. I can’t predict what will happen, but I will say this because this session is really a political commercial for the far right. It doesn’t even matter to Lt. Governor Patrick or Governor Abbott what happens with this bill.”
Johnson says the Republicans will use it during the Republican primary campaign in 2018. “Regardless of whether they get the bill and they’ll celebrate or they lose the bill and they will blame Speaker Straus.”
Opponents call the legislation discriminatory against transgender people.
A pastor who says she’s trans-identified, Carmarion Anderson told those at the Capitol rally, “This bill not only doesn’t protect me as a trans-identified, it doesn’t protect us as gender non-confirming people as unambiguous as we are and proud to be, it gives permission for hate crimes.
Rep. Simmons strongly disagrees. “It’s not about transgender.”
He says there’s a lot of confusion about the bills he proposed, HB 46 and HB 50.
The bills would wipe out all of the local ordinances across the state that regulate multi-occupancy bathrooms and locker rooms in government buildings and schools.
Rep. Simmons says the ordinances don’t do enough to protect women and children from sexual predators who may want to follow them into restrooms and locker-rooms.
He says, “It’s about the fact that there are can be people who want to do harm to others who can use this gender identity definition in these facilities and do harm to others because someone could use it as an affirmative defense, I was identifying as a female that day, and I was just looking around.”
Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick have said their number one priority this special session is property tax reform and lowering property taxes.
Local governments have been fighting against these efforts for months.
Some Republicans including Representative Jeff Leach, R-Plano, favor a bill that would force automatic elections if local governments want to increase property taxes by five percent or more from the previous year.
The current rate triggering an election is eight percent.
Leach says, “I’d love to see a substantive roll-back reform, whether it’s at five or six percent, it’s clear we need to protect the people’s ability to vote or not vote when they want their taxes to be raised.”
Dallas Councilwoman Jennifer Staubach-Gates, a conservative, says such a bill would hamstring cities like hers. “Well, it’s definitely going to have an impact on our budget. So again, we should be making those decisions at the city level deciding how we’re going to spend and allocate our resources.”
Democrats, including Eric Johnson say they want to leave cities and counties alone.
But he and Leach and other lawmakers say they do favor making the local governments’ budgeting process more transparent by advising property owners when and where those votes will take place.
Before these bills can be debated, lawmakers must pass sunset bills to keep some state agencies operating, including the Texas Medical Board.