House committee takes up version of the bathroom bill that would not prohibit nondiscrimination ordinances in bathroom facilities

Claire Allbright

A committee considered the House’s version of the controversial “bathroom bill” during a meeting that started late Wednesday night and went into the early hours of Thursday morning.

The House Committee of State Affairs heard hours of public testimony mostly in opposition to House Bill 2899, authored by state Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton. 

The version of the bill debated Wednesday narrowed the focus of the bill as filed so that it would ban local municipalities — including cities and public school districts — from implementing policies that allow “a class of persons” to use multiple occupancy restrooms, showers and changing facilities, according to their gender identity. 

Simmons said HB 2899 would address the bathroom issue and create a necessary unity in policies at a statewide level. 

“This issue needs to be the same in Austin as it is in Abilene,” Simmons said. “It needs to be the same in Houston as it is in Hutto.”

HB 2899 would nullify portions of nondiscrimination ordinances which have been in place for over a decade in cities such as Dallas, Austin and Fort Worth. 

“It does not eliminate nondiscrimination ordinances for transgender individuals in areas of the law not related to multiple occupancy bathrooms, showers or changing facilities,” Simmons said. “What it does is it protects our citizens in an area they believe they need to be protected in.” 

Simmon’s proposal differs from Senate Bill 6, in that it targets local nondiscrimination ordinances instead of explicitly regulating the bathroom usage in government buildings, public schools and universities. 

SB 6 was approved by the full Senate last month, but it has yet to be scheduled for a committee hearing in the House. 

Gov. Greg Abbott said on Twitter on Tuesday that he supports the efforts of both chambers to protect privacy and is going to work to get a bill to his desk for approval.

“I applaud the House and Senate for tackling an issue that is of growing concern to parents and communities across Texas who are now looking to the Legislature for solutions,” Abbott said in the statement. “Rep. Simmons is offering a thoughtful proposal to make sure our children maintain privacy in our school bathrooms and locker rooms.”

At the end of March, North Carolina repealed and replaced portions of their bathroom bill, House Bill 2, which required individuals to use the bathroom according to their “biological sex.”

The replacement for HB 2 would still let the North Carolina Legislature regulate bathroom access and put a three-year ban on enacting local nondiscrimination ordinances applicable to private businesses employment practices and public facilities. 

Cathryn Oakley, senior legislative council for the Human Rights Campaign, said one of the main differences between the new North Carolina law and HB 2899 is that under the North Carolina law, political subdivisions can not have policies that either protect transgender people from discrimination or that mandate discrimination. HB 2899 would only prohibit non discrimination ordinances. 

“(HB) 2899 is one of dozen anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in Texas this year,” Oakley said. “It’s important to say that these all truly have one thing in common … which is that they’re not dealing with … actual problems that are happening in bathrooms. It’s never been about bathrooms, it’s about discrimination.” 

No action was taken on HB 2899 and the bill is currently pending in committee.