AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas Senate approved legislation Tuesday banning treatment options for transgender young people, and it will ultimately apply to those already receiving that kind of health care in the state after a reversal among Republican lawmakers.
Senate Bill 14, spearheaded by Republican State Sen. Donna Campbell of New Braunfels, passed by a vote of 19-12 along party lines. The legislation now moves to the Texas House of Representatives for debate, where it has to clear before the governor can potentially sign the bill into law.
“Children who are on puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones need more counseling and love. They don’t need blades and drugs,” Campbell said ahead of the vote Tuesday.
The legislation includes a number of provisions affecting the state’s doctors and the transgender minors they might treat. It prohibits anyone under 18 from receiving puberty-blocking medication, hormone therapy or surgeries for “the purpose of transitioning a child’s biological sex.” Doctors could also lose their medical license in Texas if they provide these options, according to the bill. State health insurance plans would also no longer be able to cover this kind of care.
Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, delivered almost 15 minutes of remarks explaining his opposition to the legislation before the final vote happened. The conclusion of his speech drew loud cheers and applause from people sitting in the Senate gallery Tuesday, which led to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick sounding his gavel several times trying to quiet the chamber.
“Who are we protecting? It seems like it’s a moving target with this legislation, but what is clear to me is who we are targeting,” Menéndez said. “This session, over 100 bills have been filed in the House and Senate that address the needs of the LGBTQ community, yet we choose to give the stage to the bills that exclude them.”
Menéndez also directed a message to transgender kids in Texas.
“I see you. Please know you have a lot of life to live. There are many people who love you, and you have much growth ahead of you,” he said. “Please don’t let this or anything we do in this building discourage you from flourishing.”
Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, D-Austin, spoke against the bill, too, and directed part of her comments at the GOP lawmakers.
“I know you believe you’re acting heroically to protect children, and I know most of you have had little contact with transgender people and they scare you,” she said. “But we have heard overwhelming evidence that the protection you imagine this bill would provide comes at the cruel expense of a small and already bullied class of Texas children.”
The senators voted along party lines (19-11) Monday afternoon to remove an amendment introduced by Campbell, which notably passed last week with no opposition. It would have created a “grandfather clause” to allow transgender minors who are receiving this care 90 days before the effective date of the proposed law to continue to do so. However, the vote Monday resulted in an about-face that stripped that exemption for some Texans to finish their gender-affirming treatments.
Campbell called the change she introduced last week a “surprise amendment” that ended up creating confusion among “communities,” which she cited as reasons for withdrawing it.
“The amendment was not discussed in committee, and there were so many questions that have been brought up since the amendment was put on that,” she said Monday. “Out of respect for the body, we’re going to just take it down.”
Menéndez rose Monday to also speak against Campbell’s decision to go back and remove the “grandfather clause” amendment. Last week she said he worked with her to craft that exemption. He called the reversal “medically unwise” and “not a thoughtful or a kind thing to do” to the Texas children currently receiving treatments and their families.
“I’m concerned that under the guise of protecting children, that we’re actually going to hurt many children and their families. Possibly some who will leave the state, and maybe that’s the overarching goal,” Menéndez said.
If the legislation becomes law, it will go into effect on Sept. 1 of this year.
The bill’s passage in the Texas Senate comes a few days after the recognition of International Transgender Day of Visibility, which is dedicated to celebrating transgender people and raising awareness of discrimination they face. President Joe Biden issued a proclamation for the day, mentioning the wave of transgender restrictions passed in several state legislatures across the country.
“Transgender Americans shape our Nation’s soul — proudly serving in the military, curing deadly diseases, holding elected office, running thriving businesses, fighting for justice, raising families, and much more,” Biden wrote in his proclamation. “As kids, they deserve what every child deserves: the chance to learn in safe and supportive schools, to develop meaningful friendships, and to live openly and honestly. As adults, they deserve the same rights enjoyed by every American, including equal access to health care, housing, and jobs and the chance to age with grace as senior citizens. But today, too many transgender Americans are still denied those rights and freedoms.”
On Tuesday last week, a Texas House committee began its discussions on a companion bill to what passed in the Senate. Advocates for transgender Texans gathered inside the Texas Capitol overnight after the end of that hearing, where hundreds signed up to testify. House Bill 1686 by State Rep. Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress, would prohibit physicians from providing gender transition surgery or “puberty blockers” to Texans under 18.
“This whole cottage industry operates without self regulation to the detriment of vulnerable children,” Oliverson tweeted Monday.
The House Committee on Public Health left that bill pending as of March 28.
In a statement sent out Tuesday afternoon, Campbell said, “I look forward to continuing to work with Rep. Tom Oliverson, a fellow physician and author of the House companion bill, as well as all relevant stakeholders as this legislation works its way through the Texas House so we can get a bill to Governor Abbott’s desk as quickly as possible.”
The legislative session is set to end May 31.