Texas Legislature 2019

Dan Patrick says he won the fight over the bathroom bill, but at schools not much has changed

In 2017, Patrick pushed for the controversial measure that would have restricted the use of certain public facilities for transgender Texans, but it failed to become law.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, left, sits next to Gov. Greg Abbott as he speaks during a press conference at the Governor's Mansion on Wednesday.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, left, sits next to Gov. Greg Abbott as he speaks during a press conference at the Governor's Mansion on Wednesday.  Miguel Gutierrez Jr. / The Texas Tribune.

The “bathroom bill” won’t be back this session, its loudest champion suggested Wednesday morning.

At a Governor’s Mansion press conference on the second day of this year’s legislative session, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — who last session was the top state leader championing the measure, which would have regulated the use of certain public facilities for transgender Texans — suggested there’s no need to bring back the divisive proposal that headlined the last legislative year in 2017, but failed to reach the governor's desk.

“When you win the battle, you don’t have to fight the battle again,” Patrick said, sitting beside Gov. Greg Abbott and recently elected Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton. “I think it’s been settled, and I think we’ve won.”

Without citing evidence, Patrick claimed that the school district behavior he said necessitated the measure has “stopped.”

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"Sometimes a bill doesn't pass, but you win on the issue,” Patrick said. He added later in the day at an event with Texas Realtors that “school districts have stopped this policy.”

“There aren’t any school districts forcing students — as one school district was — to share showers, lockers and bathrooms,” Patrick said.

But experts said most school districts work to accommodate transgender students on a personalized basis, and that that approach has not changed in light of the debate at the Capitol in 2017.

“Most districts deal with this kid by kid,” said Rebecca Robertson, chief programs officer for Equality Texas, an LGBTQ advocacy group. “For Dan Patrick to say now that schools have abandoned these policies and reversed course — I don’t know of anything to support that claim.”

Two of the school districts at the center of the bathroom bill fight — Fort Worth ISD and Dripping Springs ISD — told The Texas Tribune their policies have not changed as a result of the 2017 legislative session. Those districts prohibit harassment based on gender; Fort Worth’s policy expressly forbids discrimination based on gender identity and expression.

Joy Baskin, director of legal services for the Texas Association of School Boards, said most districts accommodate students on a case-by-case basis — and that that approach has not changed in recent years.

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"The political ramifications did not really change school district policies, per se," Baskin said.

The bathroom bill fight kicked off in the wake of an Obama-era policy guideline that directed public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms that aligned with their gender identity. One version of Texas’ “bathroom bill” measure would have required that individuals, including transgender men and women, use the facilities with the gender identity on their birth certificates. Other, similar proposals would have prevented local governments and school districts from enacting or enforcing nondiscrimination ordinances allowing transgender individuals to use the facilities that align with their gender identity.

In the months since the 2017 legislative sessions, Patrick has made similar suggestions that the issue no longer requires the Legislature’s attention. But his answer carried extra weight Wednesday as he and the state’s other top two leaders projected a unified front, promising to tackle bread-and-butter policy reforms like school finance, property tax reform and disaster recovery. Any lawmaker can file a bill, but if the measure doesn’t have support from the state’s top leaders, it’s unlikely to make it very far.

Texas Values, a hardline conservative group that championed the bill two years ago, has not forgotten about the issue. In a news release this week, the advocacy organization listed a version of the bathroom bill as one of three legislative priorities, saying “the issue is only getting worse.”