EDITORIAL: We hope next Legislature avoids old divisive issues

The 86th Texas Legislature convenes in a month, and we hope that some of the more controversial issues of the previous session, which grew out of the contentious presidential campaigns, aren’t resurrected.

Gov. Greg Abbott has said that one of the more divisive issues, known as the bathroom bill, won’t be a priority, and we trust that other state officials have similar attitudes.

In fact the governor now says he never supported the proposal. During his September debate with Democratic gubernatorial challenger Lupe Valdez, Abbott said resurrecting the bill was not on his agenda for the upcoming session.

Two years ago, he Abbott touted the bill as a way to “make sure our children maintain privacy in our school bathrooms and locker rooms.”

The bill was similar to a North Carolina law enacted in 2016 that mandated the use of public restrooms by the gender that is listed on a person’s birth certificate. It was issued in response to anti-discrimination ordinances some cities were passing, and prompted the issuance of a Barack administration memo stating that public school restrooms should be used according to the gender under which a student was identified.

Texas was one of several states where bathroom bills were introduced, but few actually passed. After it failed to reach a vote by the 85th Texas Legislature, Abbott called a special session that included the bill as one of several issues he wanted revisited.

Again, it failed to pass. And that’s good — not only because it would be patently discriminatory and address a problem that never existed, but because it would have severely damaged the economies of Texas cities and the state in general.

Proponents of the bill warned that child molesters could simply dress as women and enter women’s restrooms to lie in wait for their victims. Opponents noted that people who saw themselves differently from the gender on their birth certificates, especially those who had sex reassignment surgery, would not be able to use public facilities.

Many businesses, organizations and entertainers threatened to cancel events or avoid states where such a bill would pass. This included major sports all-star games and college tournaments, concerts and conventions. Companies announced they would reconsider any plans to open any new outlets or headquarters in states that enacted bathroom laws.

House Speaker Joe Straus, whose resistance to the bill kept it from advancing in that chamber in 2015, formed a bipartisan committee after the session to study economic issues, including any possible fallout from a bathroom bill, among other issues.

The committee’s report, issued in March, said the state should heed warnings about “the consequences of such discriminatory legislation to avoid endangering the state’s successful economy,” and avoid “any unnecessary distractions, such as manufactured social issues that are unreasonable, unenforceable and harmful to the economy.”

Some conservative groups have stated that the issue still needs to be addressed. We hope the majority of our lawmakers agree with our governor that such discriminatory and divisive matters should be left to lie where they fell two years ago.