Texas Governor Revives Stalled Transgender Bathroom Bill

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Chuck Smith, the chief executive of the gay rights group Equality Texas, said Mr. Abbott’s decision would harm already vulnerable transgender people. “This is a 100 percent political issue, and the only reason for it is to target, demonize and stigmatize transgender people,” Mr. Smith said.

Mr. Abbott’s announcement was one of his most closely watched and controversial decisions since he took office in 2015, and his move to order lawmakers back to Austin starting on July 18 represented a flexing of his political muscle. Because the Legislature failed to pass the bill during the regular session, it effectively died; its only chance for survival had been a special session, and only a governor has the authority to convene one.

In doing so, Mr. Abbott ignored the concerns of local and national business leaders but earned swift praise from social conservatives, some of whom had complained that he had remained largely on the sidelines in the debate. Critics said Mr. Abbott, a former judge who is viewed by many as more cautious than his predecessor, Rick Perry, had capitulated to the extreme right, and to one of his Republican colleagues, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who led the push for the restrictions.

In a statement on Tuesday, Mr. Patrick praised what he called the “big and bold special-session agenda,” which he said “solidly reflects the priorities of the people of Texas.”


Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas announcing a 30-day special session starting in July. Credit Eric Gay/Associated Press

But in recent days, the chief executives of more than a dozen companies, including Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook, warned Mr. Abbott in a letter that they were “gravely concerned” that any bathroom-related legislation would hurt the state’s business-friendly reputation. On Tuesday, the gay rights organization Glaad denounced the special session. Democrats criticized the governor for jeopardizing the state’s business-oriented brand.

“My take is that he is clearly panicked about the far right, and he feels the need to shovel as much red meat to the far right of his party as he can,” said State Representative Chris Turner, a Democrat who was the campaign manager for Wendy Davis, Mr. Abbott’s Democratic rival in 2014.

In a recent interview at his Capitol office, Mr. Abbott pushed back against that idea. “The positions that I’ve fought for in my first session and in this session are unalterable conservative principles, so it’s just who I am,” he said.

Special sessions are not uncommon in Texas. Mr. Perry convened 12 during his tenure, on dozens of topics. But this one is likely to be unusually tense, fueled by an already heated debate between two top Republicans.

Mr. Patrick and State Representative Joe Straus III, the speaker of the House and a moderate Republican who said a bathroom bill could hurt the Texas economy, traded barbs as the session drew to a close last month in a rare public display of infighting.

Mr. Straus’s attempt to loosen the bathroom restrictions in the House was rejected by Mr. Patrick and Senate leaders. The resulting stalemate threatened the operation of several state agencies, including the one that licenses doctors. The failure by the Legislature to pass legislation to keep those agencies operating put added pressure on Mr. Abbott to call a special session.

“A special session was entirely avoidable,” he said on Tuesday. “There was plenty of time for the House and Senate to forge compromises.”

The original bathroom bill was much tougher in restricting which bathrooms transgender people could use in government buildings. The new bill, House Bill 2899, is far less detailed and sweeping, and it would take effect in September if it passes.

It would effectively ban local regulation of discrimination. The bill would prohibit cities, counties and school districts from passing anti-discrimination measures to protect any class of people already protected under state law. And it would nullify existing policies in San Antonio, Dallas and other cities that allow transgender people to use the public bathroom that matches their gender identity.

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