Texas lawmakers are once again poised to roil the capitol and the state in a controversy that doesn’t need to be. The bathroom bill is an unnecessary distraction from issues that really matter, and more important items they’ll address in the special session that begins on Tuesday.
As we have stated before, if Texans are truly threatened by a wave of men entering women’s bathrooms for prurient purposes, there are already laws on the books to prosecute such cases. But there’s no evidence that such a problem exists, much less at a scale that warrants action at the state level.
The bathroom bill - which is one of the 20 items Gov. Greg Abbott has placed on the special session agenda, and is supported by many of our East Texas lawmakers - would require people to use the restroom that corresponds to their biological sex.
The bill failed in the regular session, but as written then, it would apply to public bathrooms and to schools and public buildings. Violators would be subject to a civil penalty - a fine of up to $1,000. But if a separate crime was committed in the wrong bathroom, that crime’s penalty would be enhanced. Cities would be prohibited from enforcing rules regarding bathrooms that differ with the state law.
Supporters say it’s about public safety. So it’s fair to ask whether there truly is a safety issue. There isn’t.
In an age of awareness of fake news, this is a fake issue. It began in the feminist theories of University of Chicago Law Professor Mary Anne Case, who complained as far back as 2005 that restrooms were segregated.
“I remain quite committed to the abolition of legal rules that distinguish on their face between males and females,” she said.
Soon cities such as San Francisco were passing ordinances mandating gender-neutral restrooms and universities were following suit. The federal government weighed in by telling all public schools that Title IX requires them to make accommodations for transgender students.
But here’s the thing. In the very rare event that there is an actual problem, accommodations can be made at the local level. A single-stall restroom can be set aside, for example. It’s not a matter that demands the full attention and political capital of the entire Texas Legislature.
Political capital - the goodwill and chit system that keeps Washington and Austin functioning - is limited. Once it’s depleted, things grind to a halt.
Lawmakers should resist the temptation to spend it all on this issue, and focus their energies and capital on issues that matter - such as fixing the public school finance system, for example.
If they don’t, we all lose. Lawmakers who support the bathroom bill are picking a fight in which there can be no winners. A similar bill has cost North Carolina an estimated $395 million in economic activity (including the loss of the NBA All-Star game).
We have plenty of laws in Texas. The things some parents fear are already illegal. The proposed bathroom bill should be rejected, and lawmakers need to focus on real problems.