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Texas speaker Joe Straus: “I’m Disgusted” no more Bathroom Bills

Joe Straus

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus told Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick “I’m disgusted by all this” in response to Patrick’s demand for his support of a bathroom bill. “I’m not a lawyer, but I am a Texan,” Straus said. Tell the lieutenant governor I don’t want the suicide of a single Texan on my hands.”

Speaker Straus recalled that incident while being interviewed by Lawernce Wright of the New Yorker. He said that Patrick had sent two legislators from the Senate to lean on him at his office the Friday before the end of the regular session. (Patrick’s spokeswoman says that this is “not accurate.”)

One of the senators carried an envelope that apparently contained the language of a bathroom bill that Patrick would accept. The senator, whose name Straus would not disclose, was a lawyer and told Straus that the language had been carefully crafted to ensure that the bill would override any local anti-discrimination ordinances.

The senator started to open the envelope, but Straus said not to bother. “I’m not a lawyer, but I am a Texan,” he said. “I’m disgusted by all this. Tell the lieutenant governor I don’t want the suicide of a single Texan on my hands.”

A spokeswoman for Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said Monday that “no one wants to see harm to anyone” and said the bill isn’t about discrimination.”

Oh, but it is about discrimination. I have personally seen the look of glee in their eyes when they see the pain they are inficting.

  • Dan Patrick’s use of the bathroom bill as a weapon this legislative session has resulted in hundreds of pregnant women and their unborn needlessly dying.
  • Dan Patrick’s use of the bathroom as a weapon has put thousands of at-risk children under state care in life-threatening conditions.

The Dallas Morning News reports “ “Tens of thousands of infants and children believed to be in imminent danger of abuse or neglect, even death, are not being seen promptly by state child abuse investigators — and thousands of them haven’t been checked on at all.”

Joe StrausJoe Straus is a moral man who should be disgusted by this. This does not need to be our reality and would not be if Dan Patrick cared enough about Texans to put us first and his personal bigotry second.

Joe Straus listened to us when we testified in both overnight hearings. It was a grueling, costly and demoralizing task, especially during the Senate hearing for SB6. Before we were allowed 3 minutes to speak we were forced to listen to the transphobic committee’s hour-long leading questions for each of the hate group representatives invited by the Senate as ‘guests’.

“….. I don’t want the suicide of a single Texan on my hands.”

My Texan transgender friends and I are suffering from increased dysphoria due to this last session and are profoundly anxious about the upcoming special session.

Sometimes I find myself in nearly uncontrollable sorrow when I think of my beautiful state of Texas and how it is now known internationally as the ‘hate state’. I cry when I think of the children asleep in their parents loving arms as the pled as Texans against this horrific unnecessary life threatening legislation.

I cry when I think of the transgender children asleep in their parents loving arms as the pled against this horrific unnecessary life threatening legislation.

Joe Stauss should be disgusted with Dan Patrick. Dan Patrick and his violent legislative cabal do not represent the state of Texas. A comprehensive study by the non-partisan Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) shows that 53% percent of Texans oppose discriminating against transgender people in public accommodations.

Gregg Abbott and Dan Patrick have resorted to what amounts to moral extortion. They are knowingly allowing women and children to suffer, even die, while attacking Joe Straus’s moral compass hoping he would bend to their will and help move a transgender bathroom bill through the House.

The back story to this is provided by Lawrence Wright of the New Yorker who wrote “America’s Future Is Texas” a thirty some year personal recollection of Texas politics.

We pick it up in May 2011 when Governor Perry, who was gearing up for his first Presidential race, signed a bill requiring all women seeking an abortion to have a sonogram at least twenty-four hours before the procedure.

Carol Alvarado, a Democratic state representative from Houston, pointed out on the House floor that, for a woman who is eight to ten weeks pregnant, such a law would necessitate a “transvaginal sonogram.” She then displayed the required instrument to the discomfited lawmakers: a white plastic wand resembling an elongated pistol, which would be inserted into the woman’s vagina. “Government intrusion at its best,” she observed.

Nonetheless, the bill passed in the House, 107–42. When the Senate approved the bill, Dan Patrick, then a state senator, declared, “This is a great day for Texas. This is a great day for women’s health.”

Between 2010 and 2014, the proportion of women who died in childbirth in Texas doubled, from 18.6 per hundred thousand live births to 35.8—the worst in the nation and higher than the rate in many developing countries. These figures represent six hundred dead women.

A report in the September, 2016, issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology noted, “In the absence of war, natural disaster, or severe economic upheaval, the doubling of a mortality rate within a two year period in a state with almost 400,000 annual births seems unlikely.”

The mystery might be cleared up if Governor Abbott released records about how these women died. In 2011, when he was attorney general, he issued an opinion stating that information about the deceased would be withheld, supposedly to prevent fraud.

Dan Patrick, Rick Perry, and other Texas lawmakers who have called their bills a victory for women’s health have shown no compassion for the women who have suffered, and perhaps died, because of them. Their legislation has been equally heartless toward children. A fifth of the uninsured children in the U.S. are in Texas. In 2004, the Texas Education Agency lowered the percentage of children who can be enrolled in special-education classes from thirteen per cent (about the national average) to eight and a half per cent (the lowest in the country). According to the Houston Chronicle, tens of thousands of children have been denied the education they need because of this arbitrary limit.

In 2015, a federal judge, Janis Graham Jack, ruled that, in Texas, foster children “almost uniformly leave State custody more damaged than when they entered.” The state, she said, was violating the children’s constitutional rights by exposing them to an unreasonable risk of harm. Judge Jack declared that state oversight agencies had adopted an attitude of “deliberate indifference” toward the plight of the children in their care, even in the face of repeated abuse and, sometimes, homicide. “Rape, abuse, psychotropic medication, and instability are the norm,” she added.
Governor Abbott promised to overhaul the child-welfare system, but things have only worsened. In the 2016 fiscal year, at least two hundred children in Texas died of maltreatment, compared with a hundred and seventy-three the previous year, and those figures don’t include more than a hundred other deaths that are still being investigated. Child Protective Services, the state unit charged with investigating cases of abuse, is in chaos. Nevertheless, Ken Paxton, the Texas attorney general, appealed Judge Jack’s decision to appoint a special master to oversee the state’s foster-care system, claiming that it would amount to a “federal takeover.”

Nearly a year after the judge’s ruling, Child Protective Services acknowledged that caseworkers had not even visited more than forty-seven hundred children at high risk of abuse or severe neglect. Hundreds of children have been sleeping in hotels or emergency shelters, or on air mattresses in government offices, because the state has nowhere else to put them. Hundreds of caseworkers have quit, complaining that they were overworked, demoralized, poorly paid, and often placed in dangerous situations. Union leaders have said that higher pay would help attract more applicants to the job, which offers a starting salary of thirty-seven thousand dollars, but state officials countered with a plan to lower the educational requirements for caseworkers.

During the 2017 legislative session, while bills addressing the child-welfare crisis were being considered, a teen-age girl who was being housed in a state office building fled in the middle of the night. She was hit by a van and killed.

Also among the slain consent bills was H.B. 3302, a sunset safety-net bill. It had been crafted to preserve important state agencies that would otherwise be phased out under an automatic review policy, which takes place every twelve years. One of the agencies up for review was the state medical board. If the medical board expired, there would be no agency to license doctors in Texas. It wasn’t clear if Freedom Caucus members had realized the far-reaching consequences of killing H.B. 3302.
Dan Patrick, however, recognized that an important lever had been handed to him. The only way to avoid the consequences of H.B. 3302’s failing to pass was for a similar bill to be passed in the Senate—which had a later deadline—and then sent back to the House. On the Monday after Mother’s Day, Speaker Straus wrote a letter to Patrick, urging the Senate to pass such a bill—along with the budget—so that the legislature could avoid a special session. In response, Patrick privately sent him specific terms for a deal. The House had to pass the bathroom bill and another item on Patrick’s agenda—a bill that capped local property taxes. In return, the Senate would agree to pass its own version of the sunset safety-net bill, as well as the budget and several other items, including one championed by Straus, which dealt with school-finance reform. Public schools in Texas are financed through property taxes, along with federal and state funds. Over the years, the state’s contribution per student has diminished, with property taxes making up the difference. To restore the balance, Straus wanted to allocate one and a half billion state dollars to the public schools.

The Senate had added an amendment to the school-finance-reform bill, however, which amounted to what Straus called a “poison pill”: a provision for vouchers for private schools. The House had already rejected this idea, but Patrick felt that Texas schools had enough money. In an op-ed published in early June, he noted that total education spending, including universities, was already the largest item in the budget—“about fifty-two per cent of all state dollars.” He added, “It is disingenuous to suggest that we are, somehow, holding back funding that we could spend on schools.” (Education spending, as a percentage of the Texas budget, is lower than it has been in at least twenty years.)

By now, the ill will between the two men had spilled over into the chambers they led. Lyle Larson, the San Antonio Republican, who is close to Straus, accused the Senate of “taking hostages” when it promised to pass certain House bills only if the House voted for Patrick’s priorities. “I’ve got six,” Larson cried. “How many other bills were held hostage by the Texas Senate?”

Governor Abbott had warned Speaker Straus that he would demand action on the bathroom bill—even if he had to call a special session. With Straus’s blessing, a compromise was crafted by Chris Paddie, a Republican representative from Marshall, in northeast Texas. It was styled as an amendment to a bill on school safety, and would affect grade schools and high schools but not universities or government buildings. It affirmed the right of all students to use the bathroom with “privacy, dignity, and safety”—language that strongly echoed Patrick’s scaremongering about potential transgender predators. But it did not explicitly bar students from using particular bathrooms.

Across Texas, school districts and chambers of commerce seemed resigned to accept the amendment. In Straus’s opinion, it codified a reasonable practice that many schools had already adopted. Still, there was fierce opposition in the House from Democrats who saw it as appeasement. Representative Rafael Anchia, of Dallas, reminded the other members that, since they had begun debating the bathroom issue, in January, ten transgender people had been violently killed in the U.S. He read their names aloud.

The amendment passed the House, but Patrick wasn’t satisfied. He said that it didn’t “appear to do much.” Time was running out. Straus declared that Patrick could take Paddie’s amendment or leave it. “For many of us—and especially for me—this was a compromise,” Straus told reporters. “As far as I’m concerned, it was enough. We will go no further. This is the right thing to do in order to protect our economy from billions of dollars in losses and more importantly to protect the safety of some very vulnerable young Texans.” It was “absurd,” he said, that passing a bathroom bill had taken on more urgency than fixing the school-finance system.

On the Friday before the end of the session, Straus told me, Patrick sent two emissaries from the Senate to visit him at his office. (Patrick’s spokeswoman says that this is “not accurate.”) One of the senators carried an envelope that apparently contained the language of a bathroom bill that Patrick would accept. The senator, whose name Straus would not disclose, was a lawyer and told Straus that the language had been carefully crafted to ensure that the bill would override any local antidiscrimination ordinances. The senator started to open the envelope, but Straus said not to bother. “I’m not a lawyer, but I am a Texan,” he said. “I’m disgusted by all this. Tell the lieutenant governor I don’t want the suicide of a single Texan on my hands.”

Thank you Joe Straus. You give us hope.

Kelli Busey
Kelli, Busey is managing editor at Planet Transgender



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