GOP's so-called critical race theory bill advances as bill to restrict transgender student athletes stalls in House committee

Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, applauds the passage of HB 3880, which is legislation that addresses support for students with dyslexia on Thursday, May 13, 2021.

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Setting up a potential showdown with Republicans in the final days of the second special legislative session, a House Democrat blocked a committee vote to advance a bill that restricts transgender student athletes from participating in school sports.

For the second time in two days, Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, on Tuesday adjourned the public education committee he leads without voting out Senate Bill 2, a priority of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate. The bill which is widely opposed by Democrats and LGBTQ advocates, would require transgender student athletes to participate in sports based on the gender on their birth certificate instead of their gender identity.

The bill’s failure to advance on Tuesday does not spell its doom, the committee can still approve it. But with less than six days left before the special session ends, the delay complicates its passage in the House.

In the same meeting, Dutton allowed another conservative priority, the so-called critical race theory bill which would limit how Texas educators can talk about race in public schools, to advance to the floor for a full vote. The bill has already passed the Senate and has a high chance of passing in the Republican-controlled House.

The committee action came less than 24 hours after Dutton had taunted Patrick, threatening to hold his prized legislation back amid rumors that the Senate was stalling a bill to restore funding to the Legislature. Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed the entire Legislature’s funding as retribution for Democrats walking out of the regular session in May to kill the GOP voting bill.

“What I am told, is that if we don’t pass these two bills — the [critical race theory] bill and the transgender bill — the Senate is not going to consider trying to fix the funding in Article X,” Dutton said Monday night, referring to the section in the budget which funds the Legislature. “So, I want to see if [Patrick] has his big boy pants on. This meeting is adjourned."

On Tuesday, neither the House nor the Senate had yet passed its version of a bill to restore the Legislature’s funding, which includes the salaries and benefits of 2,100 state workers. But Dutton had changed his tune on at least one of the bills.

Republican Rep. Dan Huberty, of Houston, tried to sweeten the pot with Democrats on the transgender student athletes bill with an amendment to delay its implementation by a year while the state studied how many students would be impacted. But Democrats argued that if the bill was only delayed by a year, it would not not allow lawmakers to use the study’s findings to craft good policy and would let potentially harmful legislation go into effect and impact kids.

Dutton asked Republicans if the study could be done without the bill taking effect. After a long pause in debate, Dutton said: “This is one of those things that I as chairman will take the heat for. So, this meeting is adjourned.”

During the regular legislative session, Dutton was criticized by fellow Democrats and LGBTQ adovcates for reviving a version of the transgender student athletes bill after it had already died in committee. At the time, the move appeared to be in retaliation to members of his own party for spiking one of his bills.

The critical race theory bill, Senate Bill 3, was approved in committee by a party line vote of 7-5 and could be heard on the House floor as early as Thursday.

A former educator, Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock, said moving forward with the bill in its current state “would be irresponsible” and asked the committee to delay its vote.

“This bill has been a mess from the beginning,” he said. “It’s still a mess now.”

But Huberty promised to work with lawmakers to address their concerns, winning over lawmakers like Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, who had expressed a wish to postpone the bill’s vote to craft amendments before its passage in committee. Lozano voted instead to approve the bill Tuesday and work with Huberty on amendments before it is considered in the House.

“I don’t want to delay if it could potentially kill the legislation,” he said.

Critical race theory is an academic discipline that studies how race and racism have impacted social and local structures. The bill became a rallying cry for conservatives across the nation last year and several legislatures, including Texas', have already passed bills limiting its teaching in public schools. Academic experts say GOP leaders have misrepresented the tenets of the framework.

Abbott vetoed legislative funding in June in retaliation for the defeat of his priority election and bail changes bills when Democrats first walked out of the House in May during the final days of the regular legislative session. Both of those bills passed have now received final approval during the current special session.

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