Texas lawmakers split over bathroom bill, hold special session

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Texas lawmakers have convened for a special session after both the state’s House and Senate failed to agree on the so-called bathroom bill that would bar transgender students from the rest and locker rooms of their choice.

The leadership of the two chambers of the Texas legislature found themselves split over whether to restrict transgender people’s access to public bathrooms and locker rooms based on their “biological sex” stated on a person’s birth certificate.

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Governor Greg Abbott (R) and the head of the Texas Senate Dan Patrick have advocated for the bill, while the speaker of the state’s House of Representatives Joe Straus refused to pass it during the chamber’s regular session, citing opposition from some of the state’s largest employers and sports leagues.

“I’m not going to let a big-government, moderate-to-liberal speaker undermine our part or undermine solid conservative principles that have made Texas a leader for the last 10-plus years,” Patrick said of Straus in an interview with The Hill. “He’s totally out of touch with the Republican Party of Texas.”

“I’m not embarrassed to say that I know how to govern without being an extremist,” Straus said, according to the newspaper.

Patrick blocked the passage of an unrelated legislation – referred to as a must-pass bill – that would keep a handful of state agencies operating, including the Texas Medical Board, which licenses the state’s doctors.

This effectively forced the governor to call a special session, during which the bathroom bill is to be discussed among other proposals.

On Monday, several major Texas employers held a news conference at the capitol to express their opposition and to warn that if the legislation passes they may choose other states for business.

“A school district or open-enrollment charter school shall require that each multiple-occupancy bathroom or changing facility accessible to students and located in a school or school facility be designated for and used only by persons based on the person’s biological sex,” reads the Texas Senate bill.

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North Carolina’s infamous version of the bathroom bill passed in March, prompting boycotts by celebrities and leading to canceled sporting events and business meetings.

North Carolina has subsequently repealed portions of the legislation, including the requirement that transgender people use the bathroom that matches their birth certificate.

In February, the Trump administration rolled back guidelines granting transgender students access to bathrooms that conform with their gender identity.

“This is an issue best solved at the state and local level,” said Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

The Obama administration’s guidelines, issued in 2016, was based on its interpretation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sex discrimination in schools.

Title IX reads: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

The Trump administration rescinded the old instructions citing the US Court of Appeals, which concluded that the term “sex” in the previous guidelines was “ambiguous and deferred to what the court characterized as the ‘novel’ interpretation advanced in the guidance.”

“We are in a legal quagmire right now as it concerns Title IX. It’s not just Texas, but other states are going to have to work through this,” said Governor Abbott.

In March, the US Supreme Court refused to hear the case of a transgender Virginia teen who sued the school district over access to public bathrooms. SCOTUS sent it back to a lower court, effectively returning the matter to the states.

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