Despite House Speaker Joe Straus’ (R–San Antonio) aversion to tackling the bathroom battle brought to the forefront by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, conservatives in the Texas House forced him to confront the issue on the second day of the 85th legislative session and used it to secure major victories on the House Rules.
Each session, lawmakers must approve rules that govern the way the House operates through a housekeeping resolution. Typically lawmakers approve minor changes, such as simple date and salary adjustments, but State Rep. Matt Schaefer (R–Tyler) had another idea.
Bringing forward an amendment to the resolution, Schaefer proposed codifying the existing rule that men may not enter the ladies’ restroom in the House chamber.
Schaefer’s amendment shouldn’t have been controversial. After all, it was understood to be wholly unnecessary in the past eighty-four legislative sessions of the Texas Legislature. But the “bathroom debate” sent terror through the leadership of the Texas House and allowed the conservatives to extract more substantive victories on the rules.
Desperately attempting to avoid a vote on the issue, Straus’ leadership ceded ground to conservatives by abandoning proposed rules changes by State Reps. Larry Gonzales (R–Round Rock) and Jim Murphy (R–Houston) that would have chilled pro-life and toll road transparency efforts.
Additionally, Schaefer and conservatives won concessions on providing budgetary documents to all members and livestreaming meetings of the Appropriations Committee. Another amendment by Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R–Bedford) will make committee substitutes available to the public online.
However, the Democrat coalition held firm and defeated two amendments authored by State Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R–Arlington) that would have provided much needed transparency reforms for the House Calendars Committtee.
On both votes the majority of House Republicans followed the leadership team and joined with Democrats to protect a process that allows them to kill legislation in secret. State Rep. Todd Hunter (R–Corpus Christi) even conceded that he sometimes uses the informal system of “tagging” bills in the calendars committee to kill bills at the request of the authors of the bills.
Texans should be encouraged that conservatives in the Texas House came in with fight and determination and were able to force the House leadership to back down from changes that would have crippled the grassroots ability to have amendments adopted later in the session.