Houston News & Search
AUSTIN – Entering the fray over where transgender Texans can use public bathrooms, a far-reaching bill that a powerful House committee is scheduled to hear next week would rescind several local ordinances aimed at protecting LGBT people from discrimination.
The one-page proposal, House Bill 2899, would prohibit cities and counties from passing non-discrimination ordinances and would not allow them to add or subtract to the classes of people already protected under state law. Authored by Republican Rep. Ron Simmons of Carrollton, the bill also would nullify all local non-discrimination measures across Texas that do not conform to the state’s standards.
Current Texas law includes only race, color, disability, religion, sex, national origin and age as protected classes.
Simmons’ chief of staff said Thursday that the lawmaker was not available to discuss his bill because he had already left Austin for the Easter holiday. His legislation is scheduled for a hearing Wednesday in the House State Affairs Committee.
In March, the Senate approved a so-called “bathroom bill” that would force transgender Texans to use restrooms and other facilities at public colleges and government buildings that match their “biological sex” as designated on their birth certificate. The bill, dubbed the Texas Privacy Act by its supporters, sailed through the Senate on a nearly party-line, but House leaders, including Speaker Joe Straus, have expressed no interest in bringing the bill to a vote in that chamber.
With less than 50 days left in the legislative session , the measure, Senate Bill 6, has not been sent to a House committee.
While Simmons’ bill does not mention bathrooms, it would replace non-discrimination criteria approved by city officials with those approved by state lawmakers. In effect, localities no longer could allow transgender people to use public bathrooms that match their gender identity in government-owned buildings because they would not be considered a protected class under state statute.
The initial bill, which Simmons told The Dallas Morning News he intended to amend before Wednesday’s hearing, drew sharp rebukes from big-city officials, LGBT rights organizations and the state’s largest business group. They have staunchly opposed attempts by some Republican lawmakers to restrict local elected officials’ authority to pass their own measures against discrimination, which often include provisions to protect members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities.
Jeff Coyle, San Antonio’s director of government and public affairs, said the bill, as written currently, would gut the non-discrimination ordinance that city council members approved in 2013.
“We oppose HB 2899,” Coyle said in a statement. “We have not seen the revised bill the sponsor plans to substitute, but we are opposed to any legislation that harms our economic competitiveness or preempts our locally-adopted ordinances.”
Keeping Texas open
Dallas adopted an ordinance in 2002 prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, which the city defined to include gender identity. It was amended in 2015 to separately define sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, covering all three areas.
Dallas City Councilman Lee Kleinman said the initial ordinance and the recent changes reflect his community’s desires.
“We’re against it because we have a non-discrimination ordinance, and we certainly don’t want it preempted by the state,” he said. “This is yet another one of these legislative sessions where they’re just so adverse to municipalities; it’s unfortunate, and I don’t understand it.”
After Houston voters defeated a 2015 referendum on its equal rights ordinance – which offered expansive protections to more classes than state or federal law does – the city was left without a non-discrimination policy.
“We remain focused on stopping discriminatory legislation and keeping Texas open for business and inviting for all,” he told the Morning News, adding that the association was still looking at Simmons’ bill.
Through a spokesman, House Speaker Joe Straus’ office declined to comment on the bill.
Houston News & Search