No need for bathroom bills; women’s restrooms have private stalls

Monica Roberts addresses the crowd at a rally for All In for Equality Advocacy Day at the Capitol on Monday, March 20, 2017. Event organizers and participants rallied and spoke with legislators about LGBT issues. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

I find myself evermore confused about Texas transgender bathroom bills especially in light of a new measure Texas House lawmakers unveiled this week.

American-Statesman writer Chuck Lindell reported that House Bill 2899 by state Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, would nullify local anti-discrimination protections that regulate access to multiple-occupancy bathrooms, showers and changing rooms. The measure effectively blocks cities, counties and school districts from enacting or enforcing transgender-friendly restroom policies.

So as I read that, it blocks jurisdictions from preventing discrimination. Got that?

A different version, Senate Bill 6, flew through the Senate last month along party lines. It would require government buildings and public schools and universities to limit bathroom use to the sex listed on a person’s birth certificate.

I’m seriously trying to understand the problem Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Gov. Greg Abbott and many other Republicans are trying to fix in public – and now it seems, private — bathrooms and why I have been so unaware of the abuses they cite apparently going in ladies’ rooms across Texas. They have cited concerns over privacy and the scary threat of men, pretending to be women, in order to peep, or worse, at women taking care of their business.

Do they know that women’s restrooms have individual toilet stalls?

Perhaps all the confusion is contributing to my own bathroom issues.

During intermission at a recent performance at Austin’s Vortex playhouse I found myself along with several other women standing in line for the men’s restroom. It was the shortest line and some of us didn’t realize that the restrooms were labeled by gender. It is after all, the Vortex. Ultimately we did bail and join the women’s line, which snaked across the lobby.

But on a recent trip to New York during intermission of a Broadway show, dozens of women, including yours truly, jumped over to the men’s restroom line when it was clear we wouldn’t make it back to our seats for the start of the second act. At $200 a ticket, you aren’t fussy about such things. And yes, we did encounter a gentleman at a urinal, but he seemed OK with it, shrugging his shoulders and saying something like, “Go ahead, do your thing.” We did.

At one point, watching North Carolina’s meltdown on the transgender bathroom issue, I figured this deal to be a loser. Texas, I mused, was too smart to go down that rabbit hole. At least GOP House Speaker Joe Straus, recognizing the harm to the Texas economy, is opposing such measures.

That is underscored by a recent report by The Perryman Group that stated “reductions in travel and tourism activity would likely result in a gross product loss of almost $3.3 billion per year as well as the loss of over 35,600 full-time equivalent jobs (based on 2016 levels of activity).”

Consider that losses would total nearly $412 million in the speaker’s hometown of San Antonio.

While estimates are based on the Texas Senate’s version of the bill, the report, titled, “The Potential Impact of Social Legislation on Business Activity,” cautioned that “If the Texas Legislature passes a law viewed as discriminatory against lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender persons, it is likely that some meetings and events would be canceled and that some leisure travelers will also avoid the state. The resulting reduction in travel and tourism would involve substantial economic costs.”

Feeling its own economic squeeze, North Carolina did adjust its bathroom rules enough to appease the NCAA, which had threatened a boycott. It is unclear whether such tweaking will satisfy other big players.

Unfortunately, Texas is way down that rabbit hole now with Abbott weighing in on bathroom measures this week via Twitter, saying, “I support the principles of both the Senate and House to protect privacy in bathrooms. We will work to get a bill to my desk.”

OK, but what have we been doing up to now about our bathroom choices? Wouldn’t we have known by now if there was a problem? And why not trust local jurisdictions to address public bathroom policies, since it is local taxpayers who pay for them, be they in schools, city halls or parks?

That way Austin and San Antonio could enact protections for transgender people, while Cedar Park and Kyle could require everyone to use public bathrooms based on the sex listed on their birth certificates. And the private sector certainly is capable of taking care of its own bathroom business.

Certainly there may be some who have abused bathroom privileges. We’ve all read or seen news stories about smart phones hidden in walls, elevators and bathrooms for lewd purposes. But those are crimes committed by peeping Toms and perverts – not transgender people.

In any case, I wish Texas leaders had collected evidence to substantiate abuses so we would know what in the Sam Hill is going on in restrooms and how widespread it is? Then we would at least have facts driving legislation instead of hysteria, confusion and ignorance.

And would someone please tell our leaders that women and girls don’t even do No. 1 in the open. We have individual bathroom stalls.

 

Trump doubles down on a border wall, and a government shutdown looms

The border fence between El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
The border fence between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. (The New York Times)

 

What are we to make of Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist extraordinaire who is embroiled in a child custody battle in a Travis County courtroom? His attorney wants us to believe Jones’ bombastic on-air persona is merely performance art – just for show, folks, that’s all. Jones, however, asserts no trickery is involved.

A far cry from President Trump, another well-known figure known for his crowd-pleasing bluster. You can count on Trump meaning what he says. Well, except for when he doesn’t.

Take for instance the president’s recent flip-flop on NATO, the trans-Atlantic alliance Trump called “obsolete” throughout the campaign and as recently as last month. The president declared then that NATO “doesn’t cover terrorism,” which isn’t true.

But earlier this month, as he stood with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Trump had a sudden change of heart. “I said it was obsolete. It’s no longer obsolete,” the president said, explaining that NATO made a change and now fights terrorism. The record says otherwise; as the Washington Post noted, NATO has been active in counterterrorism since 1980, even moreso since 9/11.

The newspaper has taken to calling Trump the “king of flip-flops.” Like the Post, a number of news organizations routinely chronicle the president’s many 180-degree turns on policy.

But there is one policy position where the president isn’t showing any signs of budging or flip-flopping – his vision of a border wall.

On Thursday Trump doubled down on one of his signature campaign pledges. He wants Congress to add money for a new wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border to a massive spending bill, potentially forcing a government shutdown. As the Chicago Tribune reported:

Trump’s request, outlined in conversations with White House officials and in a memo from budget director Mick Mulvaney, calls for $33 billion in new defense and border spending — and $18 billion in cuts to other priorities, such as medical research and jobs programs.

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A partial government shutdown would begin April 29 if the spending bill isn’t passed.

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney told The Associated Press that Democratic negotiators on the spending bill need to sign on to funding the president’s priorities, including a down payment on a border wall and hiring more immigration agents.

“Elections have consequences,” Mulvaney said. “We want wall funding.”
Mulvaney said the Trump administration knows many in Congress, especially Democrats, don’t like the wall, “but they lost the election.”

More Americans opposed (62 percent) than favored (35 percent) building a wall, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in February.

A partial government shutdown is never popular and at least for now, it appears few in Congress share the White House’s desire to flirt with one, though some Democrats vow to oppose the wall and even some conservative Republicans object, though on fiscal grounds.

The Department of Homeland Security pegs the cost of a wall at up to $21.6 billion. Trump famously vowed throughout his campaign to make Mexico pay for the wall. That’s obviously not in the cards. Was it ever, really?

With the spectre of a government shutdown looming, some on Capitol Hill expect a bipartisan spending bill will emerge by next week’s end, and that a vote on funding for the wall will come in a separate spending bill later this year.

One thing is clear: Trump administration requests to fund the wall aren’t going away. The president is adamant about fulfilling his vision of a “big, beautiful border wall.”

 

 

 

 

Trump’s order a case of ‘Do as I say, not as I do’

President Trump Visits Snap-On Tools In Kenosha, WisconsinCall it a case of “Do as I say, not as I do.”

Harkening back to a cornerstone of his campaign, President Trump this week signed a “Buy American, Hire American” executive order that tightens rules under which visas are awarded to skilled foreign workers.

The order also directs the federal government to prioritize buying American-made goods and hiring American firms for federal projects.

“We’re going to do everything in our power to make sure more products are stamped with those wonderful words ‘Made in the USA,’ ” Trump said during a visit to a tool manufacturer in Wisconsin, with wrenches forming a U.S. flag as his backdrop. “For too long we’ve watched as our factories have been closed and our jobs have been sent to faraway lands.”

On the campaign trail, as he did in his Wisconsin stop, Trump made buying American-made goods and hiring American workers a signature theme, one that played very well with blue-collar audiences.

That was Trump, the candidate. Trump, the billionaire businessman, however, was a different story.

As The Washington Post put it, “(Trump’s) business practices often contradicted his political rhetoric. Parts of his clothing line were manufactured abroad and he hired foreign workers at many of his properties.”

Trump may want the federal government and American firms to “buy American” and “hire American,” but he doesn’t always do that himself. Many of his products are made outside the U.S., and the use of undocumented immigrants to build Trump Tower became a flashpoint of one of the presidential debates, an accusation by Hillary Clinton that the Politifact organization rated as “True.” Trump also uses the H-2B visa program to hire foreign workers at his Mar-a-Lago resort.

The order Trump signed this week calls for federal crackdowns on fraud in another visa program, H-1B.

The order is intended to discourage use of foreign labor, which the White House argues puts Americans out of jobs and drives down wages.

That prompted a swift response from the American Immigration Lawyers Association, which said H-1B visas have a positive impact on wages because workers earn higher average wages than Americans in similar jobs.

The immigration lawyers group said the H-1B is expensive enough that most American employers use it only when they can’t find qualified U.S. workers to fill jobs.

Trump’s order, AILA said, won’t have an immediate impact on the visa program because it will require legislative rule changes first.

 

 

 

Build bigger, better LBJ high by keeping high-performing academy on its campus

At a press conference at Travis High School on May 13, 2016, AISD Superintendent, Paul Cruz reacts to the Texas Supreme Court ruling that the way Texas finances public schools is constitutional. The Austin area school districts were hoping to get more money from the state but they will not be getting more. LAURA SKELDING / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

If history is any guide, the Austin school district’s Lyndon Baines Johnson High School might well be in for a rough future in attracting students if Austin school trustees strip its crown jewel – the nationally-ranked Liberal Arts and Science Academy – from its campus.

That is a distinct possibility, given the recommendations under consideration tonight by the Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees regarding its facilities master plan.

Moving LASA is estimated to cost at least $90 million and as much as $122 million in capital costs, which the district would have to ask taxpayers to finance through bonds. That could become a racially-charged issue for trustees and the public, signaling that school officials are willing to invest in moving the elite, predominantly white academy from its host campus, the predominantly minority and lower-income LBJ.

RELATED READ: 5 things to know about the $4.6 billion AISD facilities plan

The reasoning behind moving LASA to a central location is well-intentioned, as the demand for seats in the academy far exceeds the supply and there is no similar advanced academy south of Lake Lady Bird. It’s unfortunate that trustees bypassed an opportunity to establish a second LASA at Crockett High School in South Austin.

It’s worth noting that the proposal to move LASA to a central location was forwarded by the district’s Facilities and Bond Planning Advisory Committee, a group charged with coming up with proposals to modernize and expand the district’s facilities to meet academic and growth needs as the district looks to offer instruction relevant for the 21st century.

But there are other, better solutions to address LASA’s growth issues without impairing LBJ, as the district did to then-Johnston High School, when it moved the Language Arts Academy from its campus in East Austin.

Johnston, now Eastside Memorial, never recovered from losing its high-performing magnet that helped integrate its campus and lift its reputation. In relocating Johnston’s liberal arts academy to LBJ in 2001 to join the district’s science academy, the district moved hundreds of students from Johnston, triggering a broader exodus of even students who weren’t enrolled in the liberal arts academy.

The high school has remained severely under-enrolled ever since, despite the millions of dollars the district has spent on raising its performance, reputation and enrollment.

Trustees should not make the same mistake with another, similar move that signals a divestment in another East Austin high school. A proposal by District 1 Austin School Trustee Edmund “Ted” Gordon would solve space limitations at LASA without gutting LBJ.

Gordon is proposing that the district construct facilities on LBJ’s campus that accommodate both LASA at its current 1,200 capacity and LBJ’s projected 1,000 capacity for student enrollment. Doing that would cost about the same, but send a positive message that the district is committed to diversity and inclusion.

We give Superintendent Paul Cruz and his team credit for pouring umpteen hours and resources into public meetings into developing the $4.6 billion plan. Chief financial officer Nicole Conley adds a high level of expertise in crunching numbers, forecasting and keeping focused on things that matter, such as how to stabilize the district’s enrollment and finances in changing times.

And we extend special thanks to the members of the Facilities and Bond Planning Advisory Committee, volunteers who put aside their own priorities to do the tough and sometimes thankless work of crafting a way forward regarding school district facilities.

Having said that, the committee’s recommendations also require more vetting and analysis.

Consider that the recommendations could mean closing/consolidating five elementary schools – all which are low-income with enrollments that are predominantly Latino and African American. Those campuses are; Brooke, Dawson, Joslin, Norman and Sanchez.

Schools could avoid closure if their enrollments rise so that at least 75 percent of their seats are filled.

But the plan seems to put the onus for filling seats on individual schools – and not on the superintendent, where it belongs. While it is right for the superintendent to work with campus administrators, teachers, parents and other stakeholders, the buck stops with the superintendent if a campus is failing or under-enrolled. As the CEO, he or she is the fixer.

We will continue to weigh in on the facilities master plan after trustees take it up Monday night. At a time when school property taxes are through the roof, Cruz, his team and trustees need to present a plan that is equitable, inclusive, efficient and financially sound. The absence of any one of those elements could be enough to sink a future bond package. And trustees would be wise not to ignore the lessons of history.

*This editorial has been updated to correct the name of the Liberal Arts and Science Academy.