Common sense must prevail in child safety, privacy

Published 7:50 am Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Editorial by Dade Phelan

Each time the Texas Legislature convenes, there is usually one topic that writes most of the headlines during its 140 day session. You can almost always count on the subject being controversial, complex and requiring careful consideration.

In 1993, for example, the focus was on passing a constitutional amendment that would have required voter approval of any statute that would impose a statewide income tax.   In 2015, debate on allowing citizens to openly carry handguns dominated the discussion. During this 85th legislative session, the privacy and security of public bathrooms, locker rooms and showers appears to be drawing the most attention.

I am often asked, “Why are you all spending so much time on this issue?” The answer is twofold and simple. Actions have consequences. The conversation began when President Obama sent a letter directing public schools to allow students to use bathrooms matching their gender identity. Southeast Texas is fortunate to have strong public schools with quality personnel. Over the years, faculty and staff have tackled many special situations that have required extra attention and discretion. They know we do not want people bullied and need to be sensitive to the needs of every individual, however we also do not want students unnecessarily exposed to troublesome situations that can be avoided. Our school districts have never needed a president to tell them how to handle a bathroom. Around the country, various municipal ordinances have recently been enacted that mandate private businesses have an “open” policy for all restrooms and locker rooms regardless of the owner’s wishes.

Common sense must prevail and the first step is implementing a consistent, statewide policy that protects students in public school bathrooms, locker rooms and showers. Simply put – the girl’s facilities are for girls and the boy’s facilities are for boys – period. If a child needs other accommodations, the school, as they have done in the past, can make those arrangements. A statewide statute would also save the 1,247 school districts in Texas from litigating 1,247 lawsuits over restroom or shower policies. This policy makes certain that precious time, resources, and funding are allocated to the classroom and not to the courtroom.

Texas should also take a preemptive approach to the local ordinances that violate one’s own personal property rights. Municipalities should not mandate that private businesses must have a certain restroom or locker room policy, and likewise should not be able to prohibit a business from establishing their own policies.

For me, this issue comes down to the safety and privacy rights of our children. As a Texas lawmaker, the most important work we do is ensuring the protection of our most vulnerable populations. That is why I have worked this session to reform the foster care system, and why I will continue to fight fervently to save unborn lives.

You can count on me to support legislation that protects the privacy and safety of our kids. That is my focus.


Dade Phelan is Texas House Member Representative for District 21