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AUSTIN, Texas — Though "bathroom bills" targeting transgender people fizzled in deep-red states across the U.S., the issue is still white hot in Texas, where the Legislature is heading into special session prepared to revive it and conservative groups are vowing revenge on Republican lawmakers who don't approve it.

Whether Texas eventually enacts a law requiring transgender people to use public restrooms according to their birth-certificate gender, the issue is looming large over Republican primaries set for March. Powerful business entities, from Apple to the NFL, oppose such a bill as discriminatory, but insurgent candidates have promised to brand lawmakers who dare reject it — or try to remain neutral in the face of so much outcry — as soft on social issues dear to conservatives.

The issue appeared dead in the near-term when the Legislature ended its regular session on Memorial Day without approving a bathroom bill. The Texas Senate had passed a strict version in March, but the more-moderate House — led by vocal bathroom bill opponent Republican Speaker Joe Straus — balked and approved a watered-down version applying only to public schools. The Senate rejected that. A stalemate may yet prevail if neither side budges during a 30-day extra session that GOP Gov. Greg Abbott has convened starting Tuesday.

The Conservative Republicans of Texas political action committee says it's ready to pounce on those who don't support the strict proposal that mimicked a 2015 North Carolina law that sparked so much uproar and threats of costly boycotts that lawmakers there eventually rolled much of it back. No other state has approved such a law, despite similar bills being introduced in nearly 20 states.

"To the extent that someone chooses to lock arms with Joe Straus and promote his liberal agenda for the state, and work with him to kill conservative legislation, we're going to be looking for and back a primary challenger to that individual," said Jared Woodfill, a Houston attorney who is the group's president.

Woodfill's PAC donated nearly $2 million between the 2010 and 2016 election cycles to 100-plus Texas legislative candidates and other conservative causes, and plans to spend lavishly to target moderate Republicans up for election in 2018.

On the other side are business and civil rights organizations, gay rights activists and many religious leaders who see the law as harmful to transgender residents and bad for the state's economy. But such groups, generally, have been less active in Texas' GOP primaries.

"The mainstream faith communities in this state cringe when they hear that violent, hateful language so they vacate the field and leave it to extreme people," said Bee Moorhead, executive director of Texas Impact, which represents religious congregations from across the faith and political spectrum. "What they are realizing is, even though we don't like that approach, it is incumbent upon us to learn about how to talk about politics."

The issue's top Texas proponent is Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a fiery former radio talk show host who oversees the Senate and is the state's leading conservative voice. Abbott, meanwhile, has appeared conflicted. He refused to endorse the bathroom bill for months, then backed only the softened House version. But Abbott has now put the issue on a list of 20 items he'd like to see the Legislature approve during the special session, bolstering his conservative credentials as he seeks re-election in 2018.

Straus likened the bathroom bill and Abbott's other special-session priorities to a mountain of horse manure. He crushed past tea party-backed primary challengers in his San Antonio district and was re-elected to a record-tying fifth term as speaker unanimously by the House at the start of the regular session. But the Republican Party's executive committee in Straus' home county recently endorsed a non-binding resolution calling for his removal as speaker.

Conservative Republicans of Texas spent $100,000 during the regular session on cable TV ads in Straus' district and in Austin decrying the speaker and promoting the bathroom bill. It also helped recruit two upstart candidates in suburban Houston who toppled key Straus lieutenants during the 2016 GOP primary. One, Republican Rep. Briscoe Cain, once worked for Woodfill's law firm before joining the Legislature and infuriating establishment legislators from both parties by helping slow key legislation in protest of issues like the bathroom bill not advancing.

Thomas McNutt, whose family owns the Collins Street Bakery, known for fruitcakes that it ships to customers around the globe, challenged another top Straus ally, Rep. Byron Cook, the chairman of the powerful House State Affairs Committee in 2016 — but lost by barely 200 votes. McNutt is running against Cook again and could get a bathroom-bill boost.

"Voters are tired of the Texas House leadership, including Byron Cook, blocking all conservative legislation," McNutt said in an emailed statement.

Cook, though, isn't shying away from the issue. In a fundraising email he said he wants to clarify transgender restroom polices for public schools, but added: "I do not condone duplicitous grandstanding on this issue and/or discriminatory legislation."

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  • Packman
    July 16, 2017 at 1:49 p.m.

    This is a debate worth having. Are the desires of a 50 year old man in a dress to urinate in the stall next to a ten year old little girl more important to society than the child's desire to feel safe in a vulnerable environment? As a society are we better off protecting innocent children or the delusions of adults?

  • RBear
    July 16, 2017 at 2:05 p.m.

    Pack, I was wondering if you would wade into this debate and you did. To start with, and we've been over this before, transgender individuals who are transitioning are not like the lecherous old men you like to assign to this debate. In fact, there have been VERY FEW incidents as such. However, individuals in transition are being threatened and discriminated on a daily basis. Your little "protect the little children" position is chasing a non-existent problem to hide your known desire to attack and discriminate against LGBT individuals. You've made your position known in here time and time again so don't deny it.
    Now, to the point of the debate in TX which you probably have no context or understanding about.I mean, tell me how many TX state legislators or mayors do you know personally? So, let's go over what's happening in this special session. The session was called because the Lt. Gov. sat on on the Sunset Bill forcing a special session when he and socio-con senators rejected a House bathroom bill that was more acceptable to all. It wasn't the best, but it did allow schools to provide separate facilities for transgender individuals.
    The governor, who's afraid of being primaried by Lt. Gov. Patrick, is allows additional items on the special including bathroom legislation. The majority opinion in TX is that this is useless legislation and several tech companies, the kind you want to attract, have voiced their opposition to the bills. This is a bad solution trying to find a problem. Transgender individuals use the bathroom of their assignment all the time and there are no problems. Yes, a few individuals do commit crimes, but they are crimes currently prosecuted under laws today. I've heard hate crimes are unnecessary because laws today are adequate. Well, laws today are adequate to prosecute predators.
    But since we're on the subject of predators what are we doing to stop predators in schools or churches? Weekly, there's an article about some pedophile preying on a child and nary a bit of concern from anyone at the level of the bathroom bill frenzy. You end your comment about protecting children, yet I never see your outrage in those situations. Sorry, but this is NOT A PROBLEM except for homophobes like yourself.

  • MemphisHog
    July 16, 2017 at 2:40 p.m.

    I have often wondered how the transgender person would use the urinal in the men's restroom.

  • GoBigRed
    July 16, 2017 at 2:50 p.m.

    Queenie - I thought you would be here moaning again. I recall that we went over this not very long ago about teachers, Priests, and Republicans vs Transgenders. I can only assume you have hit your head again and forgotten. I see RBear has helped you too. I can only hope you will see someone about your memory lapses.

  • Packman
    July 16, 2017 at 3:47 p.m.

    Hey RBear - Nah, you're wrong. The debate/problem is simple. As a society do we respect the needs/desires of the most vulnerable among us or perpetuate the delusions of the mentally ill? And why on Earth would you call me a homophobe? Are all trans people homosexual? Why are you so bigoted and narrow minded, RBear? Regardless, this debate has nothing to do with sexual orientation and everything to do with societal norms.
    And I can't wait for the visual in the committee meeting of an innocent child juxtaposed with some mentally deranged 6' 4' 300lb man in a dress and 4 inch spike heels. Let the discussions begin.

  • RBear
    July 16, 2017 at 4:01 p.m.

    Pack, you're a part of the moral rot of the Republican Party that was described in some op-eds. You see, when we ask about the pedophiles of schools and churches which are posted weekly in articles, you have nothing because it screws up your socio-con agenda. Yes, transgender are a part of the LGBT (that last letter is for them) community. I've witness you make several homophobic comments in the past so don't try to duck it for the "helpless little children" argument.
    With regards to societal norms, yes it is about societal norms and those include transgender individuals who have every right to live in peace along with the rest of us. You've already stated your twisted view by calling them delusional adults. Regarding the image, yea and it would be a lie instead of portraying the real situation. It's how you folks like to run - lies and distortions to push an agenda and you're darn proud of it. Like I said, the moral rot of the party.

  • djigoo
    July 16, 2017 at 5:20 p.m.

    In the quest for inanity, idiocy and ignorance, Queenie never disappoints.

  • djigoo
    July 16, 2017 at 5:24 p.m.

    MemphisHog, men's rooms also have stalls.

    You're welcome.

  • Packman
    July 16, 2017 at 5:37 p.m.

    Hey RBear - Sure RBear, it's moral rot for a parent to not want their little girls to share a bathroom with a man who ostensibly believes he's a woman. Like I said, this is a debate worth having.
    And amiwrong about trans people being pigeon holed into only one particular sexusl orientation?
    Hey amgoo - So, you've been inside every women's restroom, changing room, and locker room in America? Moron.

  • GCW
    July 16, 2017 at 5:39 p.m.

    Thank gawd this is our most pressing issue. Certainly glad the banksters aren't stealing us blind and our whacked out president is too busy tweeting about face lifts to start a war.