By Jon Herskovitz
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - A bill that would restrict access to public bathrooms by transgender people was approved by a Texas Senate committee on Wednesday after hundreds of people lined up for a nearly 21-hour session on that legislation, which critics said promotes discrimination.
The bill would require people to use restrooms that correspond with the gender on their birth certificate, not the gender with which they identify.
It will now go to the Republican-controlled Senate where it is expected to pass. Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who guides the Senate agenda, has said the legislation is a priority.
Analysts do not expect the bill to make it through the state House of Representatives, where there is more concern about the potential economic impact of such legislation.
The bill, which focuses on a heated political issue in the United States, is similar to one enacted last year in North Carolina. That law prompted economic boycotts and the loss of sporting events that were estimated to have cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars.
The Texas Association of Business released a study in January in which it said that if the legislation were enacted it could cost Texas as much as $8.5 billion in the state's gross domestic product and the loss of more than 185,000 jobs in the first year alone.
Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has challenged the survey and brought North Carolina Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest to Texas to rally support for the bill.
Nearly 70 businesses, including some of the state's biggest employers such as American Airlines, sent a letter to Republican leaders this month asking them to reject the bill on the grounds that it would "legalize discrimination."
Hundreds registered to testify, and more than 250 people addressed the committee. Some waited more than 12 hours while many bill opponents lined the corridors in the Capitol's dome.
"At the core of this bill is privacy," Republican state Senator Lois Kolkhorst, the bill's sponsor, told the committee.
Almost all the testimony was against the bill while supporters said it would help prevent sexual predators from targeting women and children.
Chelsa Morrison, whose 8-year-old daughter Marilyn started third grade at a suburban Dallas school after a gender transition, choked back tears as she told the committee that her daughter was bullied and if the legislation was enacted it would be devastating.
Marilyn told lawmakers, "Trans people are real. You are looking at one right now. This bill is horrifying to me and all of my transgender friends."
She said it would be embarrassing if she were forced to use the boys' bathroom. "All we got to do is tinkle and get out. That’s all."
Her mother said later in a telephone interview that Marilyn attended school in the latter part of last year for about a month, then left because of bullying and bathroom restrictions. She is now being schooled at home.
Lieutenant Governor Patrick has called the bill common sense legislation. "North Carolina was the tip of the spear," he told reporters this week. "We will be next to pass a bill that focuses on privacy, a person’s privacy, and public safety."
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Additional reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa; Editing by Frances Kerry, Toni Reinhold)