The Texas legislature plans to consider whether to restrict public bathroom usage for transgender people at a special legislative session beginning July 18.
The state legislature meets for five-month regular sessions every two years. But Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, called the special session on Tuesday. He described 20 items he’ll allow lawmakers to consider, including the contentious bathroom issue.
The announcement marked a triumph for hyper-conservative Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the state Senate and who has blocked must-pass legislation in the hopes of forcing Abbott to bring lawmakers back to Austin to consider the bathroom restrictions.
Abbott said Tuesday at a news conference that the Senate must first pass the legislation Patrick delayed ― the so-called “sunset review,” which is needed to keep several state agencies from shutting down. After that, legislators can consider another 19 issues, many of which are priorities for the state’s social conservatives, but which failed to pass the Texas House of Representatives during the regular session that ended last month. The list includes some changes to rules regulating bathroom use, though Abbott left it to legislators to decide how restrictive they should be.
“At a minimum, we need a law that protects the privacy of our children in our public schools,” Abbott told reporters, according to The Texas Tribune.
Since January, Patrick has thrown his support behind a bill to require every Texan to use the public bathroom that corresponds to the gender listed on their birth certificate. He has characterized this as a public safety measure to shield women from restroom assaults.
LGBTQ rights advocates decried Patrick’s argument, pointing out that there’s no evidence to support the idea that trans people being able to use the bathroom that best fits their gender identity leads to crime. At any rate, assaulting people in bathrooms and other places is already illegal.
Transgender people, on the other hand, routinely face discrimination, violence, and harsh treatment, contributing to high rates of mental illness and suicidal thoughts, according to Colt Keo-Meier.
“It communicates to transgender people that they don’t belong,” Keo-Meier, a psychologist who specializes in treating trans patients, said of the measures backed by Patrick at a committee hearing in March. “Quite literally, this bill is killing my patients.”
The bill backed by Patrick passed the Senate in March. But Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, a moderate Republican, called the bathroom issue “manufactured and unnecessary” and blocked it from passing his chamber.
Straus attempted to broker a compromise that would have made public and charter K-12 schools offer single-use bathrooms to people uncomfortable using the bathroom corresponding to the gender they were assigned at birth. LGBTQ advocates likened the attempted compromise to segregation, but Patrick viewed it as far too lukewarm for his taste and rejected it.
With Abbott’s announcement Tuesday, the chances that the legislature will pass some type of bathroom restriction targeting trans Texans rose sharply, according to Rice University political scientist Mark Jones. In a special session, it would be harder for Straus and other moderate Republicans to find procedural tools to kill bills they oppose.
“I don’t think it’s a question of whether or not a bathroom bill is going to pass,” Jones told HuffPost. “It’s a question of whether it passes in its more expansive format.”
Democrats, who control too few seats in either chamber to block legislation, criticized the call for a special session.
“Republican Governor Greg Abbott’s weak leadership is on full display,” Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement. “When Governor Abbott has 20 priorities to get done after lawmakers have been in the Capitol for months, it means the governor is out of touch and failed to lead.”