By Rep. 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.