What to Watch: Could North Carolina Backtrack Affect Texas?

As Texas grapples with whether to embrace a North Carolina-style "bathroom bill," that state is working to water down its own.

North Carolina state lawmakers last week approved legislation not fully repealing the law that caused national uproar and costly boycotts of concerts and NCAA sporting events -- but taking a big step in that direction.

They scrapped a previous requirement that transgender people use restrooms corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates in many public buildings, while also invalidating local ordinances protecting gay or transgender people from discrimination in the workplace or in hotels and other public accommodations.

North Carolina is trying to prove it is business-friendly after an Associated Press analysis found the law would cost the state more than $3.76 billion in lost business over a dozen years. The Texas' bill's top supporter, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, shrugged off North Carolina's backtracking, saying what it did is different from what Texas is trying to do.

Still, Texas' proposed law also seeks to bar transgender people from using public restrooms of their choice, and forbids local LGBT anti-discrimination ordinances. Patrick even staged a recent press conference with North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who sang the praises of his own state's law even as the effort to roll it back loomed.

While Texas' Senate has already approved the bill, it may not survive the House. Even if it does become law, North Carolina has now proved that there's always a chance to go back and undo it later. While waiting to see what Texas ultimately does, here are some key issues to watch this week in the Legislature:

House Budget

The House's 2018-2019 Texas budget is slated for a floor vote Thursday. But what gets approved will look very different than the version the Senate passed last week.

House budget writers want to pull $2.5 billion from the state's cash reserves, or rainy day fund, to soften the blow of slumping oil prices that have left Texas with a shortfall of up to $6 billion just to meet the current level of state services over the next two fiscal years.

The Senate budget avoids a rainy day fund raid, but only by temporarily redirecting money previously earmarked for state highways -- an accounting trick that Republican House Speaker Joe Straus likened to "cooking the books."

Both budgets feature Medicaid cuts while the Senate also wants to sharply reduce higher education funding. That chamber didn't appropriate extra public school funding, while the House is proposing a $1.5 billion increase for classrooms. But that's contingent on the Legislature passing a bill that begins overhauling Texas' school finance system -- something that may not happen since the state Supreme Court ruled the funding mechanism was deeply flawed but minimally constitutional last summer, meaning lawmakers aren't compelled to make changes.

Both the House and Senate must reconcile their dueling budgets before the session ends May 29.

Sexual Assault

Three bills designed to curb sexual assault on college campus are ready to be heard on the Senate floor.

Sponsored by Austin Democratic Sen. Kirk Watson, they would create online reporting tools for sexual assault victims, better ensure that those reporting assaults remain anonymous and stop students from being punished by school conduct codes for underage drinking or other rules violations if they report an assault.

A survey released last week by the University of Texas' flagship Austin campus found that nearly 15 percent of female undergraduates had reported being raped.

Fantasy Sports

A bill seeking to exempt paid online fantasy sports sites from Texas laws prohibiting gambling will be heard in House committee on Monday.

Last year, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a non-binding opinion that paid online daily fantasy sports constituted gambling. One major such site, FanDuel, later agreed to stop accepting paid entries for cash prizes in Texas. A second site, DraftKings, sued instead.

The proposal, by Laredo Democratic Rep. Richard Raymond, seeks to legalize such sites as offering games of skill rather than chance -- thus making them harder to classify as gambling.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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