This post, by TLC Policy Coordinator Corinne Green, is part of our Policy Desk series. Corinne and Shelby Chestnut, TLC’s National Organizing and Policy Strategist, are on the ground this week in Austin as the Texas legislature kicks off its special session.
By the time its regular session concluded on May 29th, Texas had worked through an impressive chunk of its malicious to-do list, including sanctuary cities bill SB4 and adoption discrimination bill HB3859. Two things it hadn’t managed to do, though: pass the utterly necessary “sunset bill” to keep state agencies open, or pass the utterly unnecessary bathroom bill, SB6, or any of its miserable offspring. Although SB6 advanced out of Lt. Gov Dan Patrick’s Senate, it faced opposition in a House run by a decidedly more compassionate conservative, Republican Speaker Joe Straus. “I’m disgusted by all this. Tell the lieutenant governor I don’t want the suicide of a single Texan on my hands,” Rep. Straus told The New Yorker. The speaker stalled SB6 in his chamber, inspiring a flurry of creative mischief from vexed devotees,
By this point, compromise fever gripped the Texas legislators, as Gov. Greg Abbott threatened to call a special session if they failed to move bathroom restrictions to his desk. After an amendment effort in the house was diverted into a dead end committee process, Senate Republicans, eager to please and perhaps even more eager to leave the capitol for the year, took the initiative at 1:30 in the morning to paste most of SB6 onto another measure, HB4180.
HB4180, which had started life in simpler times doing humble cleanup work in sections of the code dealing with certain technical needs of Texas counties, quickly became a “Christmas tree bill,” onto which legislators hung all of their failed hopes and dreams as the session waned – gathering 46 such amendments over the next 30 minutes. HB4180‘s author, Democratic Rep. Garnet Colman, soon flipped the script from drama to comedy. At 2AM, half an hour after the attachment of the bathroom language, he announced that he had expected this to happen, that these same shenanigans had indeed consumed an unassuming bill of his in the previous session, and that this time it was he who had played the whole town for fools: “[My bill] was a test and a trick and they wasted hours, hours playing with something that was already dead. I’ve been preparing for this since the day this was filed.” He promptly spiked the bill.
As their legislative lifeboat sank, representatives turned again to SB2078 and its prospective special process. But the House, under control of Speaker Straus, declined to appoint conference committee members to meet their Senate counterparts. The session ended amidst this confusion, and the specter of a committee on transgender bathroom habits ended with it.
In more functional times, Gov. Abbott’s bold claim that he would call a special session just to tinker with bathroom regulations might have been put to the test. But this year, the Senate leadership, in their petulant wisdom, refused to approve the crucial sunset legislation necessary to keep government agencies open. This abject failure of representative democracy guaranteed a special session to save the state from itself, but more importantly it gave the party another crack at a bathroom bill at a cost likely to exceed $800,000.
Today, as this costly session comes to order, we’re preparing for more tricks and scheming at the expense of our safety and well-being. We’re keeping the closest eye on SB23, a broad preemption bill in the vein of North Carolina’s HB2, that would wipe out nondiscrimination laws passed by individual towns and cities and take away power from local Texans to protect transgender people in their communities.
Shelby and I are at the Texas capitol this week to support Equality Texas and others organizing locally, and TLC will be back in Austin with Familia: TQLM and Aqui Estamos RGV on August 4th to rally against the legislature’s attacks on LGBTQ people of color.