Road to passage for Texas 'bathroom bill' getting far harder

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AUSTIN (AP) -- The path for Texas to enact its version of a North Carolina-style bathroom bill is poised to get far tougher as the Republican-controlled state House closes in on a key midnight Thursday deadline to approve legislation.

A proposal mandating transgender Texans to use public restrooms according to their birth certificate gender sailed through the Texas Senate weeks ago, but a similar measure that bans schools and local communities from passing ordinances to protect LGBT rights has been bottled up in the House. That's despite Republican Gov. Greg Abbott urging fellow members of his party to support it and even calling pastors at evangelical churches around the state to increase public pressure.

Outnumbered House Democrats have been using tactics to delay a vote since on this and other hot-button issues late last week. House Speaker Joe Straus, a San Antonio Republican who sees the bill as bad for business, hasn't intervened.

Top firms and lobbyists have opposed it. Many top Hollywood actors and music stars have suggested state boycotts, and the NFL and NBA have warned about canceling future Texas events if it passes.

Any bill not approved by midnight dies in its current form but could still live on as a proposed change to a related bill that's already advancing. Efforts could also be made to revive what the Senate already passed, though so far it's been a non-starter in the House.

Rep. Ron Simmons, who has been the issue's top House champion, said supporters will look to attach public bathroom restrictions that at least extend to public schools onto educational legislation are moving - even if more widespread bans fizzle.

"I think the likelihood of something getting passed this session as it relates to schools is pretty good," said Simmons, a Republican from Carrollton in suburban Dallas. "We're looking for opportunities to amend to other bills that would allow us to be able to protect the school scenario, which is where our number one concern is."

Texas' legislative session ends May 29, so while there is still time, it's beginning to run short. Meanwhile, efforts to save the bathroom bill will have to compete with other conservative priorities that have bogged down, including efforts to further restrict abortion in the country's second-largest state.

Top Republicans vowed to hit back at the U.S. Supreme Court, which last summer struck down most of Texas' tough 2013 abortion law - but so far have passed very little. As stall tactics became more widespread, a series of Republicans took to the floor to lament "pro-life bills dying."

One approved Thursday requires medical clinics to report complications from abortions, and have Texas' health department produce an annual report compiling that data. Another removing ectopic pregnancy surgery from the state definition of abortion should also survive. Neither, though, has been lauded by anti-abortion activists as major wins.

Democrats delayed other hot-button bills with lengthy debates on noncontroversial issues. The slow pace kept tensions on the House floor low and there were few protests around the Capitol. About a dozen demonstrators gathered outside and briefly held up signs reading "No more lies in Texas laws" referring to anti-abortion measures that some studies have shown have little health benefits, suggesting they are more about ideology science.

"It's no secret the legislative process in Texas is designed to kill more bills than pass bills and that's why these deadlines are in place," said Rep. Chris Turner, of Grand Prairie, who heads the House Democratic Caucus.

Asked about legislation living on in different forms he said, "We're always on the lookout for any amendments that are harmful to the state and the so-called bathroom issue is certainly near the top of that list."

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