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Bathroom bill demise is lesson for all voters

January 12, 2019

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has reached a strange conclusion over his absurd “bathroom bill” that handcuffed the state Legislature just two years ago and led to the ouster of the Republican House Speaker. All of the sudden, with no change at all in its status, a proposed bathroom bill is no longer a vital state issue like it was in the 2017 session. Patrick has abruptly declared victory in a battle he clearly lost and realized, belatedly, that legislators have far more important matters to consider.

It’s welcome, of course, but it’s also one of the more bizarre turnarounds in state history. Voters should not forget how they were misled in the last session and how fast Patrick abandoned something that he once claimed was extremely important.

The bill is basically aimed at the ridiculous theory that transgender people go into bathrooms to molest children or other people. Law enforcement officials have repeatedly said this is not a practice of transgender individuals — even if some person once did something, like, somewhere on the planet.

When states like Indiana and North Carolina tried their versions of a bathroom bill, they were quickly met with large-scale protests from more tolerant people, including many Republicans. Consumers threatened boycotts, and businesses said they would not hold conventions there. Lawmakers in both states quickly retreated.

Patrick, however, was tone-deaf to the reality unfolding across the nation. He kept harping on a non-issue to the detriment of real challenges.

Gov. Greg Abbott probably opposed the bill in 2017 but would never say so explicitly. Former House Speaker Joe Straus courageously did, and it led to his decision not to seek re-election.

It’s also worth noting that the Republican lawmaker who carried the bill in 2017, Rep. Ron Simmons of Carrollton, lost his bid for re-election. Across the state, Republicans lost 12 state House seats in November and Beto O’Rourke came within 2.6 percentage points of defeating U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. There was a clear sense that Republicans had overreached on issues like the bathroom bill and needed to come back from the edge.

The new House speaker, Rep. Dennis Bonnen, has joined Patrick in saying that a bathroom bill is a non-starter in this session: “I would be very discouraged if a distraction of that type derailed the opportunity of significant school finance reform or property tax reform.”

He’s right, and if that bill had been flushed earlier in the last session, lawmakers wouldn’t have so much on their desks this time.

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