Texas Senate approves 'bathroom bill,' heads to House

AUSTIN, Texas – A North Carolina-style "bathroom bill" in Texas won approval Wednesday in the Texas Senate despite the objections of big businesses, including Amazon and American Airlines, celebrities such as Lady Gaga and warnings from the NFL and NBA.

But the bill, which requires transgender people to use public bathrooms that correspond with the sex on their birth certificate, still faces big obstacles that could ultimately derail the proposal in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Pushed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the measure won a preliminary Senate vote Tuesday and a final Senate vote Wednesday. The tally for both was 21-10.

The bill now moves to the House, where powerful Republican speaker Joe Straus said he has no appetite for a bill he has likened to a job killer. Straus has stopped short of declaring the bill dead on arrival, but his public and repeated denouncements are significant.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has also yet to definitively take a public stance about the most high-profile bill in Texas this year. Abbott has taken broadsides at the NFL for wading into the debate but has not said whether the law is needed.

In Houston, former Harris County Republican Chairman Jared Woodfill is among supporters who helped campaign for passage with automated phone calls to select Senate districts and on social media.

“There is an expectation of privacy that our wives, our mothers or daughters should have when they go into a bathroom, shower or locker room,” Woodfill said Tuesday.

Houston attorney Phyllis Frye, who came out as transgender in 1976, said the law would legalize intolerance of transgender people, who already have a significantly higher risk for suicide then the rest of the population. Some estimates, said the suicide rate is as high as 41 percent.

“It’s not going to do anything but cause a lot of problems, cause a lot of hurt, cause a lot of hate,” Frye said.

The Texas Association of Business estimated that if passed into law, the measure would cost the Texas economy $8.5 billion in canceled events and lost business.

The North Carolina law prompted the NCAA to pull seven championship events out of the state, the NBA to move the All-Star game from Charlotte and contributed to former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory being voted out in November.

Microsoft, Intel and United Airlines are among dozens of companies that signed onto a letter, saying the measure will hurt its ability to recruit top workers, and the NBA and NFL have lobbed similar warnings at Texas. But Republicans are undeterred. Woodfill said the consequences of passage have been greatly exaggerated.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Statements about the vote

Patrick issued the following statement after Wednesday's vote:

"The people of Texas elected us to stand by our principles and uphold conservative values. The Texas Privacy Act reflects common decency and common sense and is essential to protect public safety. It protects Texas businesses and codifies what has always been common practice in Texas and everywhere else -- that men, women, boys and girls should use separate, designated restrooms, locker rooms and showers in government buildings and public schools.

"Though the debate on this legislation has been long and heated, it is important to remember that it is supported by an overwhelming majority of Texans including both Democrats and Republicans, Hispanics, African-Americans and Anglos, men and women.

"I congratulate Sen. Kolkhorst on the passage of SB 6 and thank her for both her leadership on this issue and her commitment to protecting the safety and privacy of Texans."

Following Tuesday's vote, Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa issued the following statement:

“Thousands of Texans have spoken out only to be ignored in sham hearings at the Capitol. Children spoke out about their fear of being bullied, transgender people fought for their rights, business leaders warned about the very real threat to our economy, and Republicans charged forward with their fingers jammed in their ears.

“Texas Republicans have talked about the end of civilization, because of bathroom boogeymen, if they don’t pass their potty police bill.

“Our economy is slipping, college is out of reach, Texans need a raise, and school finance is broken, but today Texas Republicans spent Texans’ tax dollars and precious time to debate bathrooms.”

The following statement from Keep Texas Open for Business in reaction to the Senate’s approval of SB 6 should be attributed to Chris Wallace, president of the Texas Association of Business:

“We’re disappointed the Texas Senate would choose to pass discriminatory legislation like Senate Bill 6, despite clear indications that its passage will have an economic impact in Texas. TAB remains committed to fighting and defending the Texas economy against bills that discriminate and run counter to Texas values.

“Our members believe everyone deserves to be treated fairly and equally, and we have heard what they know -- equity and non-discrimination is a twenty-first century economic imperative. Senate Bill 6 is simply not worth the risk, and it will do nothing to improve personal safety.

“Given the overwhelming economic evidence, and the clear rejection of the public safety argument from Texas law enforcement, Senate Bill 6 is a solution in search of a problem, and we hope that the Texas House will strongly reject this measure.”