Published 2:37 pm Friday, March 17, 2017

The Senate approved a bill Wednesday that would require people in public buildings, including schools, to use the bathroom that corresponds with the sex on their current birth certificate. Dubbed the “bathroom bill” by media reports, the measure drew flak from opponents who say it unfairly targets transgender Texans. Bill author and Brenham Senator Lois Kolkhorst said the bill wasn’t about hurting people, but rather is needed to keep men out of women’s restrooms. “The heart and the soul of this bill, I think, for me as a woman is the privacy, the safety and the security for all people, and the people that have bad intentions, we can prevent them before they act upon them” she said.

The bill applies to multi-stall restrooms and other “intimate facilities”, like showers, dressing rooms and locker rooms in public buildings. Private entities and businesses would be left to decide their own policy, and government entities wouldn’t be able to use those policies as criteria when deciding how to award government contracts. The bill also precludes cities and counties from enacting their own contrary bathroom policies, but does allow administrators of public buildings to make exceptions on a case-by-case basis, like designating a single stall restroom for use by anyone. The bill now heads to the House for consideration.

Also this week, the Senate passed a bill that would ban the sale of fetal tissue as well as partial birth abortions in the state of Texas.   Current federal bans on the practices aren’t enough, said Georgetown Senator Charles Schwertner. “This prohibition by itself is inadequate to ensure satisfactory compliance with the intent of the law, as these offenses must first impact interstate commerce to fall under federal jurisdiction, and therefore are subject to the discretion of federal law enforcement,” he said. His bill, SB 8, would place the bans in state law, empowering state officials to enforce the bans.

SB 8 would make it illegal to sell or donate tissue from elective abortions for any purpose in Texas. Providers would be permitted to donate tissue from medically-necessary abortions or miscarriages, but then only to a set of accredited research institutions.   It also increases reporting requirements for permissible expenses related to fetal tissue research, like transportation and storage, to ensure no one profits from the donations.   The bill also places in state statute a ban on a type of late term abortion, called partial birth abortions.   The measure passed 24-6 and now heads to the House for consideration.

In committee this week, the Senate Finance Committee completed work on its version of the state budget, approving workgroup recommendations on all budget articles. The state budget is divided into separate articles, like public and higher education, health and human services, criminal justice, and general government. Over the past few weeks, the 15 member committee split into a number of smaller workgroups to focus on individual articles, consider agency requests and recommendations, and deliver a final proposal for funding to the full committee. Thursday, the committee approved all article recommendations and sent the measure back to staff for final tallying and printing. Once the last details are finished, the full document will be delivered back to the committee for one last vote before it goes in front of the full Senate for consideration. That process takes about a week, and Committee Chair and Flower Mound Senator Jane Nelson said that she hopes to pass the bill out of committee no later than Thursday of next week.

The Senate will reconvene Monday, March 20 at 2 p.m.