AUSTIN — Texas now has a “bathroom bill.”
The Lone Star State has joined Alabama, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, South Carolina, Virginia and Washington as states where legislation has been filed in an effort to restrict access to restrooms, locker rooms and other sex-segregated facilities on the basis of sex or gender.
On Jan. 5, Texas Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, filed Senate Bill 6, titled the Texas Privacy Act. The legislation, she said, would address “the personal privacy concerns of many Texans.”
The legislation comes after a May 13, 2016, “joint guidance” from the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice “to help provide educators the information they need to ensure that all students, including transgender students, can attend school in an environment free from discrimination based on sex.”
Under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the federal agencies said, “schools receiving federal money may not discriminate based on a student's sex, including a student's transgender status.” The federal agencies signaled their intent to treat a student's gender identity as the student's sex for purposes of enforcing Title IX.
However, last fall, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor of the Northern District of Texas granted an injunction against enforcement of the federal “guidance.” The judge ruled that the injunction applies not only to Texas, but to all states.
Kolkhorst termed the federal agencies’ “guidance” an “edict.” She said “the proposal to have boys and girls potentially showering and using the same restroom” alarmed the public.
“This bill is written not to begin a controversy, but to end one," said Kolkhorst. "The Texas Privacy Act is a thoughtful solution to a sensitive issue. It preserves an expected level of privacy for our public schools and buildings. At the same time, it also allows for schools and universities to make personal accommodations for those requesting an alternate setting. Senate Bill 6 also allows Texas businesses to determine their own policy without government interference."
Kolkhorst said SB 6 “is unique” in that it enhances penalties for crimes committed in a bathroom against any individual, regardless of their sex or gender identity.
Opponents of “bathroom legislation” have argued that it is unconstitutional not to accommodate transgender people and the passage of such legislation would result in negative impacts on business activity.
Pablos takes office
Gov. Greg Abbott on Jan. 5 appointed Rolando Pablos of El Paso as the 111th secretary of state, replacing outgoing Secretary Carlos Cascos.
Pablos, a former utility regulator, is co-founder and chief executive officer of Uriel Americas. Most recently, he served as chief executive officer of the Borderplex Alliance, a bi-national economic development organization based on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Pablos formerly served as a member of the Public Utility Commission of Texas and the Texas Racing Commission.
Hegar finishes ports tour
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on Jan. 4 announced his completion of a multi-month travel itinerary that included visits to six of Texas’ 29 ports of entry.
“The vitality of Texas’ international trade can be seen everywhere, from the Houston Ship Channel, the nation’s busiest waterway, to the Laredo port of entry, whose five international bridges accommodate more than 2 million trucks and 3,600 trains each year,” Hegar said. “We reap enormous advantages from world trade every day, and for the ports tour my agency has quantified those benefits,” he continued.
“We’ve found that Texas ports of entry accounted for nearly $650 billion in international trade in 2015. In all, that trade supports nearly 1.6 million Texas jobs and adds more than $224 billion to our gross state product. It’s a vital part of the economy, and keeps it an essential destination for business and industry,” Hegar added.
Revenue total is reported
Comptroller Hegar on Jan. 4 announced state sales tax revenue totaled $2.44 billion in December, 4.9 percent more than in December 2015.
"Sales tax revenue growth was led by collections from sectors driven by consumer spending — retail trade and information services," Hegar said. "Tax receipts from oil– and natural gas–related sectors continued to decline relative to the previous year."
Total sales tax revenue for the three months ending in December 2016 was up by 0.6 percent compared with the same period a year ago. Sales tax revenue is the largest source of state funding for the state budget, accounting for 58 percent of all tax collections, Hegar added.
Ed Sterling is Director of Member Services for Texas Press Association.