Rumors of the Texas bathroom bill’s death are greatly exaggerated.
During a Saturday gubernatorial debate against Democrat Lupe Valdez, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott appeared to satiate a nation starved for good news when he declared the legislation is “not on [his] agenda” for the upcoming 2019 legislative session. Instead the incumbent outlined a plan to provide relief to Hurricane Harvey victims, cut taxes, tackle America’s school shooting epidemic, and create jobs.
“That is going to be my agenda this coming session,” Abbott said. “Period.”
The governor’s soundbite made for a good headline in Monday morning takes published by NBC News and the San Francisco Chronicle, but the insinuation that the bathroom bill sleeps with the fishes isn’t accurate. It also doesn’t reflect what the governor actually said.
When debate moderator Steve Spriester prodded Abbott on the bathroom bill question, he dodged answering it.
Spriester, an anchor at the San Antonio-based news station KSAT-TV, asked the Republican whether he would sign legislation limiting public restroom access for transgender people if it came across his desk. Brushing off the question, Abbott claimed he wouldn’t speculate about “hypothetical bills.”
“All I can tell you is what my agenda is, which I did, and what I’m going to be focused on during the session,” he responded.
His refusal to answer the question directly leaves Abbott a wide open door to sign a bathroom bill if conservatives make it an issue in 2019. Although Texas last debated the subject in 2017, the state legislature meets every two years. This will be the first chance the bill’s supporters will have to reintroduce anti-trans legislation after the previous effort failed in special session.
Republican lawmakers have already signaled they plan to resurrect the bathroom bill in 2017. At a September forum sponsored by the anti-LGBTQ group Texas Values, state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) claimed the problem of “men in women’s bathrooms” is the “women’s rights issue of our time.”
Kolkhorst, who authored the previous bathroom bill, confirmed she would put forward another version of Senate Bill 6 in 2019.
“The only way that you fail is to not try,” she said.
Although Kolkhorst introduced SB 6 at a time when bills targeting trans bathroom access were gaining steam around the U.S., that has yet to coalesce. In 2018, every single piece of legislation seeking to bar transgender people from using public restrooms that correspond with their gender identity has, thus far, failed to become law.
Supporters have reason to believe, however, that trend could change in next year’s legislative session.
House Rep. Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), the leading conservative opponent of SB 6, announced he would not seek reelection in 2018. As speaker of the House, Straus repeatedly refused to allow for a vote on the bill, claiming it would harm Texas’ $1.7 trillion economy. Conservatives widely blamed him for the legislation’s demise.
With Straus out, State Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) — who has alleged the issue is about protecting women and children — said 2019 is the time to strike.
“We should be able to get something signed, and because of the favorable climate in the judiciary, I think it will be upheld as well,” Krause told Texas Values last month, referencing Brett Kavanaugh’s contentious nomination to the Supreme Court.
Just days after Kolkhorst and Krause addressed the conservative group, yet another study found no link between laws allowing trans people to use the restroom which most closely matches their lived expression and crimes against women and children. Every single independent study on the subject has come to the same conclusion.
But in the face of facts, Texas Republicans have continued to support a bathroom bill. In June 2018, the state GOP added the legislation’s passage to its priorities list. Its 300 planks also included laws prohibiting abortion and loosening firearm restrictions.
So even if a bathroom bill isn’t on Abbott’s agenda, it doesn’t matter. Governors don’t introduce legislation; they just sign it.
Whether the Republican would be inclined to do so is the remaining question. When Abbott called the Texas Legislature back for an additional 30-day session in July 2017, many viewed the mandated overtime as an thinly veiled attempt to force through SB 6 — which had been a pet project of his Lieutenant Governor, Dan Patrick.
Abbott eventually endorsed the bill after months of dragging his feet.
Later reports suggest, though, there may have been a difference of opinion on SB 6 between the two men. In comments made to the Texas Tribune this March, State Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) said Abbott “did not want that bill on his desk.”
It’s impossible to say what will happen three months from now, when the 2019 session begins. A bipartisan committee on Texas’ economy chaired by Straus and Cook released a report in March calling on the legislature to avoid “manufactured social issues that are unreasonable, unenforceable, and harmful to the economy.”
After North Carolina stood to lose a reported $3.7 billion as a result of its since-repealed House Bill 2, that study could sway votes among legislators inclined to avoid the same mistakes.
But no matter what, you can take one thing to the bank: The bathroom bill is anything but dead.