Published 8:21 am Monday, March 13, 2017

Following a marathon 20 hour hearing, a bill that would require a person to use the bathroom corresponding with the gender on their birth certificate in public buildings is on its way to the full Senate. The Senate State Affairs Committee heard hours of testimony about SB 6 on Tuesday, with supporters saying it’s necessary to keep sexual predators out of women’s restrooms and critics saying it discriminates against transgender individuals. Bill author and Brenham Senator Lois Kolkhorst said the bill was carefully crafted to find a fair solution to the issue.   “Senate Bill 6, the Texas Privacy Act, is a bill that many of us have spent a great deal of time on carefully crafting to find the balance of privacy, decency, respect and dignity to protect women, children and all people for that matter,” she said in her opening remarks on the bill.

In addition to requiring people to use multi-stall bathrooms, locker rooms and showers corresponding to their birth certificate gender, the bill would bar cities from enacting contrary policies. Businesses and other private property owners would still be able to set their own bathroom policies, and schools and other public buildings could make alternate accommodations for people on a case-by-case basis. When contracting with private companies, governments couldn’t use bathroom policy as a criteria for selection. SB 6 has been placed on the Senate intent calendar and could be in front of the full body as early as next week.

In other committee action this week, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee passed a trio of bills intended to honor and protect police officers in Texas. The first measure, SB 12 by Dallas Senator Royce West, was drafted in response to the July 2016 ambush attack on Dallas police that left five officers dead and nine wounded.   The body armor issued to police for everyday use proved ineffective against the high-caliber weapon used by the assailant, West says the state needs to step in and help. “Senate Bill 12 sends a strong message in support of public safety, and puts another tool in the toolbox of men and women in law enforcement who lay their lives on the line each and every day,” he said. His bill would create a grant program, managed by the Office of the Governor, to purchase high-caliber resistant bulletproof vests for local police and sheriff’s departments. The Senate budget already has $25 million set aside to fund the program.

The second bill, SB 1138 by Houston Senator John Whitmire, would create a Blue Alert system to alert the public when a person suspected of killing or seriously injuring a police officer is at large. Similar to Amber and Silver Alerts, people will receive notice of the suspect on their phones, and media and other police departments will be similarly warned. The third measure, SB 798 by Dallas Senator Don Huffines, would make each July 7th “Fallen Law Enforcement Officer Day” in Texas . “The bravery shown by these individuals who made the ultimate sacrifice in order to protect other Texans certainly deserves to be honored,” he said. Lt. Governor Dan Patrick said at a pre-hearing press conference that he intends to pass all three bills out of the Senate on Monday.

The Senate will reconvene Monday, March 13 at 2 p.m.