'Bathroom bill' dies again in Texas as session abruptly ends
Austin, Texas (AP) — A Texas "bathroom bill" targeting transgender people died again late Tuesday along with many of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's summer demands as an already bruising legislative session was derailed by Republican backbiting that could preview an even nastier 2018 primary season.
It is the second time that North Carolina-style bathroom restrictions have failed to pass in Texas, and Abbott gave no indication he would order weary lawmakers to stay in Austin and try again — which would risk a third failure over what has erupted into one of the most high-profile bills in any U.S. legislature.
Corporate heavyweights from Amazon to Exxon Mobil lined up against the measure, as did some top law enforcement agencies, and opponents celebrated the latest failure despite the support from the governor and influential social conservatives who drive GOP politics and primaries in Texas.
"Today's victory shows what can happen when transgender Americans and their allies stay vigilant and push back against legislation that helps no one and harms many," said Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, a national LGBT rights group.
The 30-day special session actually ended on day 29, as the chambers left early, unable to agree on an Abbott-backed property tax bill.
For the governor, it was an unceremonious and deflating finish to a special legislative session that only he had the power to order. In addition to not getting a much-watched property tax proposal, other measures he championed fizzled, including taxpayer-funded vouchers that let students attend private schools.
Abbott faces his first re-election test in 2018. He has no credible challenger yet and the money to likely outspend anyone, but in dragging lawmakers back to work in July after a bruising regular session, he sought to punch back at criticism that he had grown disengaged and politically vulnerable.
Democrats mocked the special session as a monthlong political ad for GOP primary voters, and even among some Republicans there was little appetite to return to work.
The first collapse of the so-called "bathroom bill" in May laid bare an escalating feud in Texas between ascendant social conservatives and moderate Republicans, and the mutual distrust only seemed to deepen over summer.
Democrats were also soured after Abbott earlier this year signed an immigration crackdown on "sanctuary cities." That later set off a scuffle on the House floor when Republican state Rep. Matt Rinaldi called federal immigration authorities on protesters in the Capitol. Rinaldi also acknowledged telling a Democratic colleague that he would shoot in self-defense.
Abbott's office did not directly address questions about whether he would call another special session, but gave no signal he would do so.
"Our office believes this special session has produced a far better Texas than before," Abbott spokesman John Wittman said.
Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a firebrand who was Donald Trump's top Texas surrogate during the presidential race, fumed over the continued defeat of efforts to require transgender people to use bathrooms in school and public spaces that correspond with the sex on their birth certificate.
He said big businesses that predicted economic backlash were misled and had biting words for Republican House Speaker Joe Straus, who has refused all year to bring the bill up for a vote.
"I respect businesses have their opinion and point of view. They were wrong," Patrick said. "All the data they had were wrong."
Asked whether lawmakers should be called back to finish Abbott's to-do list, Patrick said "that's the governor's decision."
Without another special session, Texas lawmakers won't return to work again until 2019.
"The last 29 days have been nothing more than a waste of time and taxpayer dollars," said Democratic state Rep. Chris Turner.
By Paul J. Weber and Will Weissert, Associated Press. Copyright 2017 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
The Gayly – August 16, 2017 @ 7 a.m. CDT.