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Texas 'bathroom bills' stall in special legislative session

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Texas measures to restrict access for transgender people to bathrooms in schools and public buildings appear doomed after moderate Republican powerbrokers blocked the bills and hundreds of businesses opposed them.

FILE PHOTO: A gender-neutral bathroom is seen at the University of California, Irvine in Irvine, California, U.S. September 30, 2014. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (/File Photo

The so-called “bathroom bills” have caused rifts among Republicans who control the state’s legislature, leaving no likely path to passage before a 30-day special session wraps on Wednesday, analysts and lawmakers said on Monday.

“The bathroom bill in this session is dead and buried with dirt over its coffin,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.

Enactment in Texas, the most populous Republican-dominated state, could give momentum to other socially conservative states for additional action on an issue that has become a flashpoint in the U.S. culture wars.

But House Speaker Joe Straus, a pro-business Republican who controls the agenda in the body, has shown little interest in passing a bathroom bill, which he said was not a priority.

On Monday, opponents of the bills delivered a list with signatures from 50,000 people who opposed a bathroom bill to Straus and other prominent Republicans, including Governor Greg Abbott.

Straus' position was reinforced by a well-financed campaign from major corporations including Texas-based energy companies Halliburton HAL.N and ExxonMobil Global Services XOM.N, which have said the bills were discriminatory and would make it hard for them to recruit top talent.

Supporters of the legislation, who say it can help protect women and children from sexual assaults, have not given up.

But they acknowledge there is only a slim chance of success, with lawmakers still trying to reach deals on almost all of the 20 priority items set by Abbott for the session.

Opponents are still worried bathroom bill language could be attached as an amendment to another bill, but as of Monday afternoon, no such action had been taken.

Senate Bill 3, which made it through the Senate and stalled in the House, requires people to use restrooms, showers and locker rooms in public schools and other state and local government facilities that match the sex on their birth certificate, as opposed to their gender identity.

A push for bathroom bills nationally sputtered after North Carolina partially repealed such a measure in March after boycotts by athletic organizations and businesses that have cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

Opponents of the Texas measures include global tech giants IBM IBM.N and Apple AAPL.O, major Texas city police chiefs, who contested claims the bills would protect public safety, and the National Hockey League's Dallas Stars team.

Republican Representative Ron Simmons, who sponsored a version of the bathroom legislation in the Texas House, said the privacy issue at the heart of the bills is supported by a wide majority of Republican primary voters.

“Just because we don’t pass legislation doesn’t mean that the issue is not going to be there,” he said.

Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Tom Brown