AUSTIN—Late Tuesday, the Texas Senate gave preliminary approval to the state’s controversial “bathroom bill,” SB3.
The vote was 21-10, mainly along partisan lines, with one Democrat supporting it.
The legislation, as passed, would regulate the state’s public bathrooms based on the person’s sex listed on their birth certificates or state-issued IDs. It follows a similar framework that was adopted by North Carolina—and then partially repealed. Critics have decried other recent laws in Texas as anti-LGBT, such as the one that allows the state’s child welfare system to deny adoption and other services to children based on the provider’s religious beliefs.
As the roll was called, protesters shouted and unfurled a banner that read: “Y’all means all. SB3 = death.”
The bill does not include penalties for those who violate it. Transgender Texans could not be arrested or prosecuted for using the restroom they choose. Instead, the Texas attorney general could sue local governments and schools that adopt policies permitting transgender people to use bathrooms that match the sex they identify with, regardless of whether it matches their birth certificate or state-issued ID.
Senate leader Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made SB3 one of his top priorities for the special session, which he forced Gov. Greg Abbott to call after the bill failed to pass the House in the regular session.
SB3 still requires one more, largely ceremonial vote to move over to the Texas House. There it is unlikely to be approved, as that body’s leader, Speaker Joe Straus, once again has come out forcefully against it.
“I just believe it is not in the best interest of Texas to pass that bill,” Straus told NBCDFW on Monday.
The debate Tuesday followed a marathon committee meeting last week, when hundreds of Texans, most of whom were opposed to SB3, gave emotional public testimony.
State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), the bill’s author, rejected the idea that the bill was discriminatory and said she was putting “daughters over dollars.”
Tuesday morning, a group of police chiefs of three of the top five biggest cities in the state held a press conference on the steps of the Capitol to argue that the legislation was unnecessary, discriminatory, and would not keep people safe, according to the Texas Tribune.
Inside, senators debated the measure for more than eight hours before the final vote.
Kolkhorst said the bathroom bill aimed to protect women and children from sexual predators, contradicting the message from law enforcement earlier in the day.
“There are many voices on this issue. You know I’ve always come at this from a women’s rights issue,” Kolkhorst said. “I’m just one small voice standing here.”
State Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) asked Kolkhorst if she believed transgender boys are boys.
Kolkhorst responded: “Scientifically, there is a lot to debate.”
Garcia wasn’t having it, arguing that the bill would achieve the very thing it was trying to prevent: put men in bathrooms assigned to women. “Because, Senator Kolkhorst, trans boys are boys and trans girls are girls,” she said.
Garcia also said the bill would worsen the already high rates of suicide among trans people. That was a nod to House Speaker Straus, who had previously told The New Yorker “I don’t want the suicide of a single Texan on my hands.”
After several hours of debate, close to 30 amendments were introduced. One included state-issued IDs—not just birth certificates—which would aid transgender adults who find it difficult to change their birth certificates. Transgender children who aren’t old enough to have IDs would still be unable to use school bathrooms that match their gender identity.
Amendments by Democrats to increase penalties for attacks on trans people and to track the bill’s economic impact were quickly shot down. Other Democrats seemed resigned to the inevitably of the bill’s outcome.
“I understand that there’s nothing I could do or say today that’s going to change the vote of anyone on this floor,” said state Sen. Jose Menendez.
The room quieted.
“My fear is that I don’t want to have any child in this state feel like we have decided today to pass something that’s going to institutionalize discrimination against them because of the way they were born.”
Outside the Senate floor in the lobby, Danielle Skidmore of Austin paced the hallway. A transgender woman, Skidmore said she was tired of listening to the hours of debate: “They keep talking about safety and desperately clinging to this idea of it not being discrimination. It’s frustrating. Everybody, aside from a very small sliver of the right, thinks this is an awful, awful idea.”
“This is really an attack on transgender children. As a practical matter, this might not be an issue,” she said, referring to the bill’s lack of enforcement mechanisms. “This is really targeting children to demoralize them and stop them from being transgender.”
After the bill passed, both sides seemed relieved it was over. Kolkhorst hugged and shook hands with Republican colleagues. Onlookers in the upstairs gallery filed out.
Nicole Hudgens, a policy analyst for the conservative group Texas Values, said she was encouraged by the vote. “I’m really thankful today for Senator Kolkhorst and the hard work she’s done to protect the privacy, safety, and dignity for students and all Texans,” she said.
Hudgens had a message for Speaker Straus: “Now the speaker has the opportunity to pass common-sense legislation and address a very real issue.”
Across the hall, activists hugged and took pictures.
Skidmore shrugged. “All we can do is keep on living,” she said.