SENATE BILL 6 PASSES FIRST VOTE
(AUSTIN) — The Texas Senate has given initial approval to a bill that would require individuals to use the restroom corresponding with the sex on their birth certificate. Commonly called "the bathroom bill" in media reports, SB 6 also applies to locker rooms, showers, dressing rooms and other intimate facilities at public schools, courthouses, and other public buildings. Bill author and Brenham Senator Lois Kolkhorst believes that her bill is necessary to protect women in private spaces. "The heart and the soul of this bill, I think, for me as a woman is the privacy, the safety and the security for all people, and the people that have bad intentions, we can prevent them before they act upon them" she said.
Senator Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham authored the bill to require people use public bathrooms that correspond with the sex on their birth certificate.
Kolkhorst said the problem arose in Washington D.C. when the Department of Justice issued guidelines to the states on transgender policies in public schools, including permitting use of the restroom that matches a student's gender identity. The new administration has since rescinded those guidelines, with Attorney General Jeff Sessions saying it's an issue better left to individual states.
Kolkhorst's bill would set boundaries about who can use what restrooms and where. In multi-stall restrooms in public buildings, people must use the one designated for the sex on their current birth certificates. Businesses and other private entities could set their own policies, and cities would be forbidden from enacting ordinances dictating policy to private entities. When contracting with private entities or renting out public facilities to private groups, cities couldn't consider the restroom policy of those organizations. Administrators for public schools, universities and other public facilities could make case-by-case accommodations for individuals, like use of a single-stall restroom.
Some members expressed concerns about the effects of the bill. McAllen Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa raised the problem of how to tell if a person going into a restroom is a male or a female. "Who's going to check the birth certificate at the door," he asked. Kolkhorst replied that there won't be security guards at restroom doors, but rather it's about creating an environment where women can know they are safe in an intimate facility. "It's more of a feeling of safety that women, when they go into a restroom, that they know that there isn't a man there," she said.
The bill passed onto third reading on a vote of 21-10. It must face another, final vote, likely to be the same margin, which could happen as early as Wednesday.
In committee action Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee took up a series of bills relating to property taxes. The largest one, SB 2 by Senator Paul Bettencourt of Houston, is the result of an interim committee study conducted with public meetings across the state. After hearing more than 50 hours of public testimony in seven cities, Bettencourt said one thing became clear, property taxes are too high. "The property tax relief and reform desired by taxpayers is palatable, it is real and we need to act on it now," he said.
Bettencourt's bill wouldn't directly cut property tax rates, but it would deal with the rate of increase. Under current state law, if property taxes go up more than eight percent in a given year, taxpayers can petition for a roll back election, where voters get to decide if the new higher rate goes into effect. SB2 would cut that rate in half and would make the rollback election automatic. The bill would create a division within the Comptroller's Office to oversee the property appraisal process in Texas and make recommendations for improvements and reforms. It also creates a uniform date for property tax protest filings, May 15, instead of the varying deadlines that depend on when a person receives notice of appraisal.
The Senate Finance Committee took testimony on SB 2 until almost midnight. Senator Joan Huffman of Houston amended the bill to change the rollback rate election trigger from four to five percent, and the committee passed the bill on a vote of nine to five.
The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, March 15 at noon.