AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A Texas version of a North Carolina-style “bathroom bill” targeting transgender people again sputtered out Tuesday, leaving Republican Gov. Greg Abbott with little path forward this year over what became one of the most divisive measures in any U.S. legislature.
Chances of any last-minute deals extinguished when the House adjourned for good in a special legislative session, and although Abbott could order lawmakers to stay in Austin and try again, he would politically risk a third failed attempt with the rest of the country watching.
Fortune 500 companies, police and sports leagues, including the NFL and NBA, have spent the year putting considerable public pressure on Texas to abandon the effort.
But Abbott and other powerful Republicans have continued pushing to make Texas the first state to follow North Carolina and impose bathroom restrictions on transgender people in schools and public spaces. They’re now set to fail twice, and in doing so, are dealing a rare loss to social conservatives who are used to getting their way in Texas.
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LOOKING TO NORTH CAROLINA
The main version of the Texas bill would have required transgender people to use public bathrooms that correspond with the sex on their birth certificate. It was similar to the law North Carolina passed in 2016 but then partially repealed in the wake of political and economic backlash, including the NCAA canceling tournaments and voters booting the Republican governor from office.
That upheaval deterred most GOP governors in the country from pursuing copycat measures. Abbott was publicly noncommittal about a Texas bill at first but ultimately joined with influential social conservative groups and Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a popular firebrand who is seen as a potential political rival.
Republican supporters dismissed the fallout in North Carolina as overhyped and argued that Texas needed a bill for privacy and safety protections. Police chiefs from Texas’ largest cities, including Houston and San Antonio, say they have not found examples of restroom-related sexual assault and argued that the bill would make Texas more dangerous by emboldening discrimination.
BIG BUSINESS OPPOSITION
Just like in North Carolina, some of the world’s biggest companies came out against the Texas bill, including Apple and Amazon. Even big oil joined the fight by summer, with top Exxon Mobil and Shell executives saying the bill would harm Texas’ reputation and negatively impact economic growth.
Senate Republicans, who twice passed the bill, have brushed off predictions that Texas would lose jobs or Super Bowl bids. But House Republicans, whose leaders are more moderate, have heeded those warnings and stalled the bill at every turn.
Republican House Speaker Joe Straus has grown increasingly vocal in his rejection of putting bathroom restrictions on transgender people and has not allowed a vote on the Senate version. Near the end of the regular legislative session in May, the House passed a watered-down measure that would have applied only to schools, but it was rejected by the Senate as not going far enough.
The deadlock laid bare the escalating GOP infighting in Texas between ascendant social conservatives and business moderates whose numbers and influence have waned with the rise of the tea party. But on bathroom restrictions, the House hasn’t budged.
ONE MORE TRY
In dragging lawmakers back to the Texas Capitol to try again this summer, Abbott endorsed a proposal that stopped short of requiring people to use the bathroom that correspond with the sex on their birth certificate, but would roll back transgender protections in major Texas cities.
But the House has again stood firm and refused to grant even a hearing. Supporters say they’re not giving up, but given the legislative roadblocks, the battle is now likely to shift outside the Capitol and into the 2018 elections.
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