Texas Democrat revives bill against transgender athletes in House committee

María Méndez
Austin American-Statesman

An effort to ban transgender student athletes from competing in sports within their gender identity gained new traction in a last-minute House public education committee meeting Friday.

The legislation, Senate Bill 29, had been narrowly voted down in the House committee earlier this week, but in a meeting Friday morning, lawmakers approved a committee substitute of the bill in an 8-5 vote. 

Committee Chair Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, and Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, voted in favor of the bill after not participating in the previous vote.

At around midnight Thursday, Dutton called the committee meeting after one of his bills seeking to allow the state to take over Houston's school board was killed on the House floor and sent back to the committee. 

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Ivy Shrader participates in a rally at the Capitol on Tuesday against bills directed toward transgender Texans.

"The bill that was killed last night affected far more children that this bill ever will," Dutton said during the Friday morning meeting, justifying his vote for SB 29.

Fellow Democrats expressed disappointment and anger at Dutton's response, which they said came at the expense of transgender children.

"Senate Bill 29 is a terrible bill, and I’m severely disappointed it came out of committee," said Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, chair of the Texas House Democratic Caucus. "The bill should move no further in the process, and the Texas House should be allowed to focus on common-sense policies that benefit Texans, not discriminatory legislation that attacks our children."

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The committee substitute can now head to the full House and back to the Senate, which has to approve amendments, before potentially reaching Gov. Greg Abbott's desk.

The Senate version of Dutton's bill on state power over local school boards also was taken up by the House Public Education Committee twice on Friday. After being voted down during the Friday morning meeting, it was narrowly approved by committee members huddled on the House floor.

Maeve Calvin, 19, and her mother Alisa Miller participate in a rally at the Capitol on Tuesday, protesting bills directed toward transgender Texans, particularly legislation banning gender-affirming medical care for those under 18 and barring transgender student athletes from participating in sports under their gender identity.

Dutton did not respond to a request for comment from the American-Statesman. 

SB 29 would prevent schools from allowing students to participate in sports of the opposite sex, unless a sport, such as football, is not available to female students.

Students would have to prove their sex through a birth certificate or government record, but amended birth certificates for transgender students would no longer be accepted by the University Interscholastic League, which oversees extracurricular athletic events.

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The committee substitute removed the word "biological" from the legislation to align with state standards on birth certificates, and added an expiration date for the legislation of September 2027.

"We want to make sure that the rules that we have for Texas and what UIL has adopted are what we're operating under," Huberty said, stating that the bill is aimed against the federal government.

People participate in a rally at the Capitol on Tuesday against bills directed toward transgender Texans.

In an executive order against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, President Joe Biden said children should not be denied access to school sports, but his order does not elaborate on existing state and nationwide rules for transgender athletes.

Supporters of the bill and similar efforts in other states say it is needed to ensure a level playing field for women in sports, despite opposition from medical groups.

Opponents say it is unnecessary, and transgender Texans, advocates and parents have expressed concern that the bill further stigmatizes children and youths already vulnerable to mental health issues and suicide.

"There is no need for it to be in statute," Rep. Mary González, D-Clint, told the committee ahead of the vote. "We are continuing a discourse that makes kids feel less than themselves, and that discourse has real consequences."