With law enforcement groups voicing their opposition to the proposed “bathroom bill,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott suggested they take a closer look at the bill before speaking out against it.
The Senate recently passed a bill that regulates restrooms in government buildings and public schools, requiring Texans to use the facility that matches the gender on their birth certificates or Texas ID. Two bills filed in the House have yet to receive a public hearing.
“There is not a role for law enforcement to play,” said Abbott, speaking Monday morning at the 139th annual Sheriffs’ Association of Texas Training Conference and Expo at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine. “Enforcement of this law is done by the Attorney General.”
Law enforcement officials from across Texas held a news conference in Austin last week to protest the bill, saying it does not improve public safety.
Speaking from the steps of the state Capitol, San Antonio police Chief Bill McManus said the “bathroom bill does not pass the test, the most basic test, of any public safety bill. It does nothing to make people safer.”
“More than that, it creates new complications for police officers,” McManus said. “It targets transgender Texans.”
Abbott told the sheriffs’ group on Monday the bathroom bill does have a law enforcement element.
“It’s a civil action, not a criminal issue,” he said. “So what I urge is for everyone to step back, calmly look at what the bill actually says, before they cast some misguided judgment.”
The bathroom bill has been the most controversial legislation taken up during the special session, which began two weeks ago.
A large group, including pro-family, religious and conservative leaders, have shown support for the not-in-my-bathroom bill, while many business and law enforcement leaders are advocating against it.
That list of business leaders grew on Monday, when more than 50 Houston executives, including from Chevron, Shell and ExxonMobil, sent a letter to Abbott opposing the bill. The leaders wrote that they support “diversity and inclusion” and that “any such bill risks harming Texas’ reputation and impacting the state’s economic growth,” according to The Associated Press.
Honoring fallen officers
Abbott, speaking about the special session, said he remains hopeful that the 20 items he put before legislators will get passed.
Abbott noted that the Senate has already passed 18 of his requested items in the first week of the 30-day special session, which could cost Texas taxpayers more than $1 million.
“There’s plenty of time for the House to get these items passed,” he said after speaking to the sheriffs’ group. “If they don’t pass it, it’s not because of a lack of time. It’s because of a lack of will.”
During his speech, Abbott also touched on a new law that will make it a hate crime for anyone to target a peace officer “because of the uniform they wear” and designating July 7 as Fallen Law Enforcement Officer Day. The law also establishes a $25 million grant program for rifle-resistant body armor.
It was a year ago on July 7 that a gunman ambushed law enforcement officers in downtown Dallas, killing five.
“Respect for our law enforcement officers must be restored in our nation,” he said. “The badge every sheriff and every officer wear over his or her heart is a reminder of a sacred trust, commitment and contract with each of us.
“For law enforcement to stand in front of us and all that threatens, we must stand behind them,” he said. “It is time for us to unite as Texans and as Americans and to say no more — no more will we tolerate disrespect for those who serve, and no more will we allow the evil merchants of hate tear us apart.”
Abbott drew a standing ovation from the several hundred law enforcers present when he mentioned his request to the Texas Department of Public Safety for officials to reverse their decision to charge fees for the use of crime labs in the state.
Law officials were startled after DPS recently announced it would start charging fees for using the labs.
Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin was among those who took to Facebook to protest the new fees, which could be $550 for each DNA sample, and threatened to charge the state $50 for each state prisoner in the county jail.
When Abbott learned about the situation, he asked the DPS to reverse its decision and DPS leaders soon announced the lab use would remain free.
“I realize first-rate forensic analysis is essential to your jobs and essential to public safety in our state,” Abbott told the association. “Under no circumstances will I allow the crime labs to be underfunded or your access to them to be limited or for public safety to be put at risk.”