Texas House set to pass 'bathroom bill' targeting public schools

Reuters News
Posted: May 22, 2017 3:39 PM

By Jon Herskovitz

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - The Texas House of Representatives is expected to give formal approval on Monday to a bill that would restrict bathroom access for transgender students in public schools, a measure that critics say promotes discrimination against such children.

The state's Republican-controlled legislature has been at the forefront in advancing measures seen by backers as protecting traditional values and religious liberty but criticized by civil rights groups as eroding protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

The Texas House on Sunday night gave preliminary approval to the bill, which requires public school students to use bathrooms, changing facilities and locker rooms that match their biological sex, not the gender with which they identify.

The measure is narrower in scope than a bathroom bill passed along mostly party lines by the state Senate in March that extended to state universities and public buildings.

The Senate bill is similar to one enacted last year in North Carolina. The North Carolina law prompted economic boycotts and the loss of sporting events, and was later revamped in the face of criticism.

The more limited House measure is seen as a way to avoid an economic backlash in Texas, analysts said.

"It is absolutely about child safety," Republican state Representative Chris Paddie, who managed the bill, said in House debate on Sunday.

If the House passes the measure, it will return to the Senate for consideration of changes made since it was in that chamber. Republican Governor Greg Abbott has said he supports a bathroom bill.

Critics said the House and Senate versions undermine civil rights and use children as political pawns.

"There is no moral middle ground on discrimination, " said Kathy Miller, president of civil liberties advocacy group Texas Freedom Network.

The legislature on Monday separately sent to the governor a bill allowing adoption agencies to reject families on religious grounds, an action slammed by critics as discriminatory against LGBT Texans and non-Christians.

LGBT rights groups said they would challenge the adoption bill in court if it became law, arguing discrimination in the name of religion has no place in the state.

The bill's backers, which include several Christian groups, said it bans no one and has a mechanism for the state government to offer alternative adoption providers if any service is denied for religious beliefs.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Steve Orlofsky)