Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Facing Business Opposition, Dan Patrick Seeks to Boost “Bathroom Bill”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune

In what appeared to be an attempt at a show of force, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Monday once again attacked claims that the proposed “bathroom bill” is bad for business in Texas. 

Flanked by nine Republican senators — including Senate Bill 6 author state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst — Patrick appeared emboldened by a PolitiFact Texas report that identified flaws in some of the numbers used by the Texas Association of Business to sound the alarm on legislation regulating bathroom use for transgender Texans. 

While PolitiFact focused only on weaknesses in the report commissioned by the top business lobby group in the state and did not rule out any actual impact in Texas, Patrick insisted that PolitiFact’s analysis undermined the “bogus” report, which claimed that anti-LGBT legislation could cost the state up to $8.5 billion and thousands of jobs. 

“Fearmongering is what that report was about,” Patrick told reporters on Tuesday. “There is no evidence whatsoever that the passage of Senate Bill 6 will have any economic impact in Texas.” 

At issue is the potential economic fallout that could follow the implementation of SB 6, which would require transgender people to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings and public universities based on “biological sex” and would pre-empt local nondiscrimination ordinances that allow transgender Texans to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. 

LGBT advocates and members of the Texas business community have joined forces to oppose the bill, one of Patrick’s legislative priorities, saying it is discriminatory and could have dire consequences on the state’s economy. 

They’ve pointed to economic fallout in North Carolina, which last year passed a similar measure, where the legislation cost the state millions in cancellations: The NBA announced it would pull an All-Star Game from Charlotte that was scheduled for this year; performers canceled concerts; business expansions were scrapped; and the NCAA moved seven championship games during the 2016-17 school year out of the state. 

And opponents of SB 6 have used the Texas Association of Business’ report, which was released about a month before the legislation was filed, to gauge what the economic impact would look like in Texas. A coalition of visitors bureaus and convention associations has also raised concern about the millions of dollars in profits Texas stands to lose if it loses conventions and sports events because of the legislation. 

Ahead of Patrick’s news conference, the Texas Association of Business in a statement defended its report and claims about the economic fallout Texas could be setting itself up for if it passed anti-LGBT legislation similar to laws passed in other states. 

Calling it “the tip of the potential iceberg for Texas,” the group highlighted reports indicating the NCAA is on the verge of withholding major events from North Carolina for several years — a move that could keep $250 million in “potential economic impact” from the state. 

“The Texas Legislature can protect Texas families and businesses from unnecessary, costly legislation and protect our state from the wide-ranging harm that discriminatory legislation delivers,” the statement read. 

Despite a separate PolitiFact report that found North Carolina’s “bathroom bill” has cost the state millions in tourism and revenue, Patrick pointed to Sunday’s Super Bowl in Houston — which remained in the city after voters rejected a nondiscrimination ordinance that extended protections to LGBT residents — as proof that Texas stands to lose little over the bathroom legislation. 

Patrick also insisted he is confident the legislation, which has 14 Republican co-authors in the Senate, will make it out of his chamber. Monday’s news conference, which was attended by eight of those co-authors and Kolkhorst, stood in stark contrast to the January news conference in which Patrick and Kolkhorst unveiled the bill on their own. 

Regardless of the back and forth over the business group’s report, SB 6 is still expected to face a tough slog through the Legislature to get to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk. 

House Speaker Joe Straus has said bathroom legislation is not the “most urgent concern of mine,” and he’s expressed apprehension over legislation that could make Texas less economically competitive. 

Meanwhile, Abbott has maintained a largely neutral stance even as pressure has picked up on him to weigh in on the legislation. 

On Monday, Patrick appeared to be unfazed about about the lack of full-throated support from Straus and Abbott, saying he wasn’t “too concerned about that.” 

“Well, the Speaker should now look at the TAB report — it’s not bad for business,” Patrick said. “My job is to get the bill out of the Senate.” 

Disclosure:  The Texas Association of Business has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Top image: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Sen. Lois Kolkhorst R-Brenham give the media an update on SB6 The Texas Privacy Act also known as the "bathroom bill" on Feb. 6, 2017. / photo illustration: Marjorie Kamys Coter / Texas Tribune

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