AUSTIN, Texas — A Texas Senate committee on Wednesday approved a bill that would restrict access to public bathrooms for transgender people after hundreds of people lined up to testify on legislation that critics said promotes discrimination.
The bill, which would require people to use restrooms that correspond with the gender on their birth certificate, not with their gender identity, now heads to the Republican-controlled Senate where it is expected to pass. Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who guides the agenda in the Senate, has said it is a priority piece of legislation.
However, analysts do not expect the bill to make it through the state House of Representatives, where there is more concern about the potential economic impact.
The bill, which touches on a flashpoint in U.S. culture wars, is similar to one enacted last year in North Carolina. That law prompted economic boycotts and the loss of sporting events that estimates said cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars.
The stakes are higher in Texas, which is the largest U.S. state with a Republican-controlled legislature and has an economy larger than Russia’s.
Patrick, who has called the bill common sense legislation that protects privacy, has challenged media reports and a survey by a prominent Texas business group predicting economic damage.
But nearly 70 business, including some of the state’s biggest employers such as American Airlines, sent a letter to Republican leaders this month to reject the bill that they said would “legalize discrimination.”
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Senator Lois Kolkhorst, said it would protect safety, adding she was proud to offer a bill that tries “to strike a balance to protect, defend and give a dignified way as to how we move forward.”
Hundreds registered to testify, with more than 250 speaking in the committee. Almost all the testimony was against the bill while supporters said it would help prevent sexual predators from targeting women and children.
Pastor Seth Wynn, a transgender man, said transgender people often are the victims of violence, adding the bill offers them discrimination and not protection.
Wynn, who is bald and has a beard, said his birth certificate registers him as female, adding that if the bill passes: “There is a going to be a problem if I show up in a (women’s) bathroom.”
In the House, Speaker Joe Straus, a Republican who drives the agenda in that body, has not shown support, saying there are worries in San Antonio, an area he represents that is slated to host the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four.