87th LegislatureEducationState HouseState SenateBill to Make Public School Athletes Compete Within Own Sex Fails to Pass Out of Committee

Procedural tactics meant to get the bill past the committee fizzled out. One Republican who would have been the swing vote was absent.
May 5, 2021
A bill that would have required transgender student athletes to compete within their own biological sex may have died in committee.

Just before adjourning yesterday, members of the House Public Education Committee voted 6 to 5 in favor of Senate Bill (SB) 29, leaving it one vote shy of a majority in the 13-member committee. State Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston), the chairman of the committee, did not vote on the bill. Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), who would have been the deciding vote, was not in the room at the time.

For the most part, SB 29 would simply solidify current University Interscholastic League (UIL) rules as law. As UIL policy stands now, transgender students must compete according to their gender as defined by their birth certificate. The notable difference between SB 29 and existing UIL rules is that SB 29 would only respect unaltered birth certificates since transgender Texans can legally change them to reflect their transition.

State Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian) had offered a committee substitute — an altered version of a bill typically intended to smooth out its wrinkles or make it more likely to pass — that would have aimed to align the bill with state policy to respect legally changed birth certificates.

He then refused an amendment that would have gathered at least two “aye” votes from Democrats.

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Rep. James Talarico (D-Round Rock) offered an amendment that would have ordered a study to compare the bill to the policies of the Olympics and the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA). The NCAA has been a vocal opponent of bills like SB 29. Talarico said the amendment was meant to explore the possibility of nudging the bill in “a more inclusive direction.”

Since another Democratic member had just previously offered an amendment but said she still would not support the bill if King accepted it, King asked Talarico if accepting his amendment would earn his vote for the bill.

“I would just say that I appreciate what Representative Talarico is trying to do, but it essentially is gutting the bill, and I think we’ve reduced the bill as far as I want to. And I’m curious, though, are you voting for the bill if I accept your study?” King asked.

“Absolutely,” Talarico answered.

“If we accept this study, I will vote for the bill. I imagine we’d probably get a unanimous vote out of this committee.”

Rep. Mary González (D-San Elizario) agreed before King quickly interjected.

“I’m still going to vote no [on the amendment],” King said. “I think we need to proceed. But I do appreciate your honesty.”

The amendment then failed. Once the committee proceeded to take a vote on the bill itself, it failed with five Democratic members voting against it and Dutton counting himself present but not voting.

Before the final vote, four Democratic members spoke against the bill, saying it did not address a real issue and threatened transgender children.

“I know many of you don’t like this bill, because you told me you don’t like this bill, but you think this is a compromise. But if history has taught us anything, it’s that you can’t compromise with hate. And at least Represenative Hefner, when he was here as the House Bill author, he believed in what he was pushing,” Talarico said.

“The only reason we’re doing this is because certain Republican legislators… want to brag to their far-right primary voters that they hurt trans kids. It’s the same voters who think the election was stolen.”

González credited King for the change he made in his committee substitute but withheld her support.

“I think that Representative King has worked very hard to make the bill different than SB 29,” González said.

“This is a solution looking for a problem. We already have the rules. We don’t need the legislation.”

Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) echoed González’s concern about the bill’s effect.

“We don’t have to do this. There’s no reason… We know the harm that it can cause, good intentions not withstanding,” Bernal said.

No Republicans commented at this point in the process. The bill then failed to receive a majority vote.


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Isaiah Mitchell

Isaiah Mitchell is a reporter for The Texan, a Texas native, and a huge Allman Brothers fan. He graduated cum laude from Trinity University in 2020 with a degree in English. Isaiah loves playing music and football with his family.