Texas wants its own slice of North Carolina’s bathroom panic culture wars, or at least its lieutenant governor does.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has introduced Senate Bill 6, which mimics parts of North Carolina’s HB2, specifically the parts focusing on transgender bathroom and gender-segregated facility use. Senate Bill 6 forbids municipalities within Texas from passing laws requiring or preventing private businesses from setting their own policies on how or whether to accommodate the different sexes in their bathrooms or changing facilities. Senate Bill 6, though, also requires the people use the restrooms of facilities of the genders listed on their birth certificates in public schools and government-owned buildings. It does permit the use of single-person unisex bathrooms as a form of accommodation.
Those components match what North Carolina had previously passed. In other ways the Texas bill is less powerful. It doesn’t have anything preventing municipalities from expanding antidiscrimination or even public accommodation categories outside gendered facility use. North Carolina’s law stopped cities (Charlotte in this case) from adding gay and transgender categories to its antidiscrimination ordinances. It also doesn’t forbid cities from setting their own minimum wage laws, something also in North Carolina’s bill.
But in other ways, the Texas legislation has more teeth. The state’s attorney general will be able to sue school districts or governments and get civil judgments and fines (and “reasonable attorney’s fees” and other forms of repayment) if they do not follow the law. And it allows people to file complaints to force investigations if schools or government building do not enforce the law.
Separately, the law also increases the penalties for a whole host of other crimes if they take place in bathrooms or changing rooms (including several different prostitution crimes). Regardless of whether somebody believes that transgender folks should be able to pick their restrooms, using unfounded fears as a way to sneak through increased criminal penalties is … well, very common, but worth resisting nevertheless.
This law doesn’t just control how schools accommodate transgender students, it forces them to become bathroom monitors under threat of fines. It’s another frustrating example where the law protects the right for private businesses to set their own facility use rules but then requires government employees to refuse to respect the identities of the people they are supposed to be serving.
Since the law was just introduced this week, it is too soon to predict whether it will actually pass. But even though North Carolina’s governor lost re-election, partly over outrage due to the passage of HB 2, the law remained intact after an attempted compromise to rescind the law failed.