AUSTIN, Texas - The members of a 6th grade choir from Mineral Wells didn't miss a beat Monday morning as they performed under the Capitol Dome. But on the House Floor it was a different tune as state lawmakers held the final debate on SB 2078.
"This is intended to be respectful, fair and protective,” said State Rep. Dennis Bonnen who sponsored the bill.
The legislation was originally drafted to enhance security in public schools, but Sunday it was amended by Marshall Republican Chris Paddie. He added language to limit access to school bathrooms based on a person’s gender at birth. The amendment also requires schools to provide alternate accommodations, which representative Paddie believes addresses concerns the bill discriminates against transgender students.
"This is an accommodation for all students regardless of boy, girl, change gender, whatever the case may be, shy, bullying whatever the case,” said Rep. Paddie.
The measure won final approval on a 94 to 51 vote. It now goes to the state senate. Republican Senator Larry Taylor - who drafted the original version of SB 2078- hasn't decided if he will endorse the amended version.
"We'll have a motion to concur or not concur, if we don’t concur we will go to a conference committee and then we will have some discussion then or when it comes back from the conference committee,” said the Friendswood Republican.
In a statement issued by Rebecca l. Robertson with the ACLU, "the Texas legislature is cynically advancing an aggressive agenda of discriminatory legislation for political gain."
But officials with the Texas Association of School Boards have a different opinion and issued this statement;
"The language captures in law a solution many districts already use locally, seeking a balance between ensuring privacy and security for all students and respecting the dignity of all students."
This issue hit the political front burner last year. It was triggered after the Dept. of Education, under the Obama Administration, issued a new guideline for access to school restrooms. The federal guideline was drafted to allow transgender students into restrooms and locker rooms based on their sexual identity. It also included the threat of losing of federal education funds for failing to comply.
For parents, like Tim Sommer, who came to the Texas capitol to watch his son sing, this bitter state versus federal battle over bathrooms is being debated in the wrong place.
"I think it should be in the school district's hands, they have rules for handicapped students, they have to be handicapped accessible. I mean if we are going to get to the point we treat this like a disability, or treated with equality, then that should be for the school districts,” said Sommer.