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Democratic state Rep. Harold Dutton on Friday revived and helped advance a bill that would restrict transgender students from participating in school sports, in what appears to be a retaliatory effort directed at members of his own party members for sinking one of his bills.
Senate Bill 29, abhorred by fellow Democrats, would require the University Interscholastic League to force students to play on the sports teams based on their biological sex instead of their gender identity.
The bill, which already passed in the Senate, is a priority of Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Harold, who chairs the House Public Education committee, brought the legislation up for a committee vote on Tuesday, where it failed to advance, in large part, because Republican state Rep. Dan Huberty was absent that day and because Dutton himself abstained from voting for or against the bill.
On Thursday night, Dutton, who is from Houston, presented his own bill to the House floor that would give Texas Education Commissioner Michael Morath the ability to remove school board members. That bill, which is largely unpopular among Democrats, was blocked from being voted on after a fellow Houston Democrat Rep. Alma Allen sank it on a procedural technicality.
Dutton made several references to his bill’s failure on Friday morning in the House Public Education committee as he brought the transgender student athlete bill up for another vote.
“The bill that was killed last night affected far more children than this bill ever will. So as a consequence, the chair moves that Senate Bill 29 as substituted be reported favorably to the full House with the recommendation that it do pass,” he said.
He and Huberty, who is vice chair of the committee, then joined with the previous yes votes, giving SB 29 an 8-5 majority and advancing it out of committee. The bill must still be approved by the House before it can be sent to Gov. Greg Abbott for his signature.
State rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, who also sits on the Public Education committee, called the vote “soul-crushing.
"The vote, bringing it back up, was used as a form of retaliation by the chairman," Bernal said in an interview.
Dutton did not respond to calls for comment.
House Democratic Caucus Chair Chris Turner said in a statement Friday that he is “severely disappointed” it was voted out of committee.
“Any policy that harms the emotional and educational well-being for our students is bad for Texas students, for Texas families, and for our state,” Turner said. “The bill should move no further in the process, and the Texas House should be allowed to focus on common-sense policies that benefit Texans, not discriminatory legislation that attacks our children.”
LGBTQ rights groups have also condemned the bill for threatening the rights and mental health of transgender children in the state.
“We are already hearing from parents of transgender children who now realize their kids' lives and dignity were used as a legislative bargaining chip,” said Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas. “It is an incomprehensible betrayal to see a Democrat, who heard desperate testimony from children and parents, take this incredibly harmful action out of sheer vindictiveness toward his Democratic colleagues.”
Disclosure: Equality Texas has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.