These Anti-Trans, Border, and Water Bills Gained Steam This Week

Making moves in the Lege this week ...

Get ready to spend a lot of money on a Border Patrol Unit (art by Zeke Barbaro / Getty Images)

Anti-Trans Bills Gather Steam in Senate

Outside, on the steps of our grand Capitol, hundreds of LGBTQ+ advocates and allies waved rainbow flags, held their signs, and absorbed messages like that of state Rep. Venton Jones, D-Dallas, who told the crowd, "As taxpayers, as people who occupy this state and people who occupy this space, we deserve to be in this space."

Inside the Capitol, in a quiet room where the mic echoed, state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, told the Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs March 16 that her bill, which would bar doctors from treating transgender minors with hormones or procedures, was really what was best for trans people. "This bill is not about adults, it's not about those of maturity that can make a fully informed decision ... [Senate Bill] 14 is all about child protection." Her first witness, from Michigan, described a transition process at age 15 that later speaker Dr. Megan Mooney, a psychologist who works with trans minors, described as "not aligned with standards of care" – meaning her doctor's actions were likely illegal. After a long day of testimony, the committee postponed voting on a slew of anti-trans legislation, reconvening on March 20 to recommend the Senate pass SB 14 (8 ayes, 3 nays). They have the same split on SB 162, which would block minors from changing the gender on their birth certificate. Still pending are SB 1029, which would block Medicaid from covering gender affirming care (including for adults), and SB 250, which would block professional liability insurance coverage for medical professionals who provide gender affirming care to minors. – Maggie Q. Thompson

Republican Border To-Do List Gets a Check Mark

Republicans moved forward with their promise to tackle their nebulous "border security" priority, filing a behemoth bill before the March 10 deadline. Among other things, House Bill 20 would create a border protection unit that would let the state enforce immigration laws that courts have previously ruled to be the responsibility of the federal government. For example, the unit would have the authority to "arrest, detain, and deter individuals crossing the border illegally" throughout the state and to return immigrants observed crossing the border illegally back to Mexico. To some extent, the bill is the logical next step for Repub­licans, who aim to build on the $4.6 billion spent on Operation Lone Star.

The bill got a stamp of approval from House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, who included it in his list of priority bills. He tweeted that HB 20 and HB 7 "would bring accountability & efficiency to our state's border operation by establishing the Border Protection Unit, a professional state agency." Both bills have been referred to the House's State Affairs Committee and are awaiting a hearing.

Bob Libal, who has been doing consulting work for Human Rights Watch around Operation Lone Star, said he sees the bill as an opportunity to "deputize border vigilantes" and take Operation Lone Star to the next level. – Benton Graham

Does Sweeping Senate Water Supply Bill Hold Its Own?

In a public hearing Monday, Senate Water, Agriculture, & Rural Affairs Committee Chair Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, introduced his Senate Bill 28, intended to bolster Texas' dwindling water supply: "30% of the state water plan relies on conservation efforts, but we need bold new ideas." With the goal of 7 million acre-feet per year of new water supply by 2033, SB 28 would create the Water Supply for Texas Fund within the Texas Water Development Board, which would provide low-interest loans to projects including seawater and brackish groundwater desalination, reuse of produced water from fracking, and transferring water from other states to Texas. Monday, several water advocates expressed support for water loss mitigation efforts included in the bill, but also voiced concern that seawater desalination and produced water reuse will be "fiscally and environmentally irresponsible."

Both Danielle Goshen of the National Wild­life Federation and Sierra Club's Alex Ortiz have warned previously of the safety and environmental concerns associated with some supply­-side projects. Ortiz noted that byproducts of desalination efforts could impact coastal salinity gradients integral to sustaining ecosystems, and urged better regulatory standards. The Texas Com­mis­sion on Environ­mental Quality has not adopted numeric coastal salinity standards, and instead goes by "narrative criteria."

Meanwhile, Goshen said produced water needs to be studied "before we can have confidence that we are safely using any of these water resources outside of the oil and gas fields." – Lina Fisher

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