Texas' controversial 'bathroom bill' cleared its first hurdle -- here's what you need to know about it

A controversial “bathroom bill” in Texas cleared its first hurdle on Wednesday, easily passing through a legislative committee after a marathon session of testimony that started a full day earlier.

The Republican-backed bill would require transgender people to use the public bathrooms and facilities that match the sex on their birth certificates, regardless of their gender identity.

Much like a similar law passed last year in North Carolina, the proposal has angered Texas business groups and advocates of LGBT rights, and has become a political flashpoint in the state.

The bill will move to the Senate, where it will be debated next week. Here’s everything you need to know about it.

What the bill says

The so-called “bathroom bill,” known as SB6, says that the restrooms and changing facilities in public spaces — public schools and government buildings, for example — should be restricted to people of the same “biological sex.” The bill defines biological sex as the sex listed on one’s birth certificate.

The bill would overrule any local transgender-friendly bathroom ordinances, like ones passed in Dallas and Austin.

Who’s supporting it?

Republican lawmakers have claimed ownership of SB6 since Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called it a “top priority” of the legislative session near the end of 2016. The bill was sponsored by state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, and several of her fellow Republicans have publicly expressed support for it.

At least one Democrat has crossed party lines — and family lines — to support the bill. Democratic Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. announced on Monday he would vote for SB6, putting him at odds with his son, Eddie Lucio III, a Democratic representative.

Reasoning for the bill

Supporters of the bill claim it’s about safety — namely, keeping sexual predators out of bathrooms. Without the law, Patrick and others have argued, men could pose as transgender women in order to enter women’s bathrooms and commit crimes. Kolkhorst has denied that the bill discriminates against transgender people.

Notably, the word “transgender” does not appear anywhere in the language of the bill.

Who’s against it?

Hb2 transgender bathroom north carolinaSara D. Davis/Getty ImagesMuseum manager Jeff Bell adheres informative backing to gender neutral signs in the 21C Museum Hotel public restrooms on May 10, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina.

LGBT-rights advocates and Democratic lawmakers tore into the bill before it was even written, calling it unnecessary legislation that will lead to discrimination against transgender people.

“Forcing us into a restroom we do not feel comfortable in places us at extreme risk of physical harm,” transgender activist Pamela Curry said in front of state senators on Tuesday. Curry was one of several hundred people who condemned the bill at Tuesday’s meeting.

Business groups in Texas have also blasted the bill, saying it will negatively affect business in Texas, and hurt the state’s reputation. A group of nearly 70 businesses, including Google, Facebook, and Amazon, opposed the legislation in a letter to Texas. Gov. Greg Abbott.

Potential consequences

SB6 is modelled after a bathroom law passed in North Carolina a year ago, and critics fear the outcome in Texas could be similar to North Carolina’s fate.

Total economic losses stemming from North Carolina’s law have been pegged in the hundreds of millions of dollars — a combination of frozen business expansions, canceled concerts from high-profile musicians, and relocated sports championships.

The economic impact on Texas is hard to estimate, but one study found Texas is risking more than $US1 billion by passing SB6.

Is it going to pass?

It’s hard to tell. The senate committee approved the bill 8-1, and it is expected to pass through the Senate next week.

But it could face a roadblock when it reaches the House of Representatives thanks to House Speaker Joe Straus, a Republican who has denounced the bill.

Meanwhile, Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott, a Republican, has remained mostly neutral on the subject, declining to say whether he supports it or not. However, he did criticise the NFL for trying to “micromanage” his state’s policy.

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