An effort was made Wednesday to jump start the debate over whether or not to regulate bathroom use in Texas. The issue is expected to spark one of the most controversial debates of the legislative session.
It happened as House members were working through HR3, a routine resolution regarding ground rules for the 85th Legislative Session. Amendments were allowed which is how Representative Donna Howard was able to get approved a private place for breast feeding.
"Actually had some members that have had to deal with this, as well as some of our house staff and also the media,” said Howard ( D ) Austin.
That vote opened the door for Representative Matt Schaefer.
"I don’t want to ask public schools to do something that I’m not willing to do here in the Texas House,” said Schaefer.
An amendment filed by the Tyler Republican was drafted to regulate the use all restrooms in the state capitol. Access would be determined by a person’s sex when born. Transforming the resolution into a legislative spring board was a move most house members were not expecting.
"This shouldn’t be a controversial thing ( the resolution ) and so, yes it did kind of catch me by surprise,” said Howard.
The Amendment is a scaled down version of Senate Bill 6 which is being pushed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Speaker Joe Straus has indicated the issue is not a priority. Tuesday, after being re-elected to lead the House, Straus made a reference to the negative effects a bathroom bill could have for Texas.
"This state should invite economic activity, not turn it away,” said Speaker Straus.
The backlash from the arts community has already started. Last week Texas author Rick Riordan tweeted out he is declining an invitation to be recognized by the state legislature during this session. He wrote the books, “Percy Jackson and the Olympians,” and stated if they “want to honor me they could stop this nonsense." There are also news reports Dallas civic leaders are also worried promotors of major sporting events will boycott Texas if a bathroom bill becomes law.
Schaefer admits his Wednesday surprise was an effort to force the Speaker into a critical test vote.
"I felt like it was important to get the issue out today, see where members stand and to say we are going to lead by example."
There was no full scale floor flight but there were several intense discussions, and a formal Point of Order challenge. It was argued that bathrooms in the capitol are regulated by the State Preservation Board and not by House members. Before that point could be debated Schaefer pulled down his amendment. He says he cut a deal that prevented the adoption of rules that he believes could have hindered prolife bills that have been filed.
Schaeffer says he is still committed to getting the issue on the house floor.
"This is a priority, the Lt. Governor is absolutely right, it’s time to draw a line in the sand, we are going to do that, this issue is not going away. Many members are going to continue to press for this all session long."
But for now the bathroom debate, if there is one, will remain one for the senate to take up. The odds for a bathroom bill debate in the senate improved Wednesday. Rules were set in that chamber that will prevent democrats from blocking controversial bills from coming up. That includes hot topic items like sanctuary cities and tougher abortion regulations.