Some powerful North Texas business leaders on Monday pressed Gov. Greg Abbott to drop plans for transgender bathroom legislation they said would discriminate against Texans and be bad for business in the state.
The letter — delivered to Abbott on the eve of the special session — states that such a bill, which would determine where transgender Texans may use the bathroom, would “seriously hurt the state’s ability to attract new businesses, investment and jobs.”
Company leaders say they constantly are trying to recruit talented workers to Texas.
“To that end, we strongly support diversity and inclusion,” according to the letter, also signed by leaders at AT&T, Atmos Energy, Southwest Airlines and Texas Instruments. “This legislation threatens our ability to attract and retain the best talent in Texas, as well as the greatest sporting and cultural attractions in the world.”
Texas lawmakers will reconvene Tuesday at the state Capitol for the first day of the special session of the Legislature, which Abbott called for them to address 20 issues.
And none have been more of a hot button issue than the bathroom bill, a controversial measure that died during the regular 140-day legislative session when the House and Senate couldn’t agree on how far to go with it.
Already, a few bathroom proposals have been filed.
▪ State Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, proposes House Bill 46, which prevents cities and school districts from approving or enforcing any measure geared to “protect a class of persons from discrimination” when regulating facilities such as “restrooms, showers or changing facilities.” He also filed HB 50, which does the same, but only applies to school board officials.
▪ Senate Bill 23 by state Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, prevents cities and counties from passing ordinances that protect LGBT people from discrimination.
▪ Also, state Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, filed HB 170, which requires that future public buildings in Texas only have “gender-neutral, single-occupancy” bathrooms or changing facilities.
Texas Privacy Act
While some business leaders say the bathroom bill isn’t needed, other Texans say it is.
During the regular session, lawmakers couldn’t agree how to address the bathroom issue.
The House passed a measure requiring public schools to provide alternate restrooms for transgender youths who prefer to use facilities that match their gender identity.
The Senate version essentially required people using restrooms in publicly owned buildings — not just schools — to use the restroom that matches their “biological sex.”
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick maintains a bathroom bill is a key priority for Texas. House Speaker Joe Straus disagrees.
“At a minimum, we need a law that protects the privacy of our children in our public schools,” Abbott said when calling a special session.
The issue blew up last spring in Fort Worth when Fort Worth school district Superintendent Kent Scribner announced new guidelines for transgender and other students, assuring that they be allowed to use a restroom where they “must feel comfortable and safe.”
Patrick came to Fort Worth calling for Scribner’s resignation over the guidelines, which were later rewritten to deal with each student on a case-by-case basis.
Now some say the bathroom bill is a needed privacy bill.
“If the state of Texas does not step in during this special session, this issue will continue to be fought from city to city, from county to county, from school board to school board — resulting in thousands of time-consuming, costly, and repetitive conflicts, and a lack of transparency by local government,” said Jonathan Saenz, president of Texas Values, an Austin-based nonprofit conservative group.
“Not only that, but thousands of Texas schoolchildren will return to class this fall uncertain of how their schools will respond.”
Keep Texas Open for Business
But some business leaders say they fear a bathroom bill could drive businesses, entertainers, even sporting events out of Texas.
Some point to North Carolina, which had such a bill and later revamped it after some events left the state.
When lawmakers there changed the law, Gov. Roy Cooper said it had been “a dark cloud hanging over our great state. It has stained our reputation ... [and] caused great economic harm in many of our communities.”
IBM has been outspoken about not bringing such a law to Texas and even took out full-page ads in many of the state’s newspapers over the weekend.
“As one of the largest technology employers in Texas, IBM firmly opposes any measure that would harm the state’s LGBT+ community and make it difficult for businesses to attract and retain talented Texans,” the ad stated. “We urge Governor Abbott and the state legislature to abandon any discriminatory legislation during this special session and ensure Texas remains a welcoming place to live and work.”
Company officials on Monday then sent a memo to employees outlining potential discriminatory bathroom plans in Texas and tweeted out: “10,000 IBMers live in #TX. #TXlege bathroom bills would hurt business & our ability to attract talent #KeepTXOpen.”
And Phil Gilbert, global head of design for IBM, joined a news conference on the steps of the Texas Capitol on Monday, saying it would be a discriminatory measure that “goes squarely against longstanding IBM values.”
Earlier this year, the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce weighed in on the bathroom battle, siding with those who oppose to protect Texans throughout the state. Officials noted the bill would void the city’s local non-discrimination ordinances.
“We must continue to send the message that Texas is a diverse and welcoming state or risk losing billions of dollars and thousands of jobs,” Matt Geske, vice president of government affairs for the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, said in the statement.
Abbott apparently didn’t know it, but he came face-to-face with one of the people who would be impacted by a bathroom bill, if it passes this session, during his re-election announcement last week in San Antonio.
There he met, and took a photo with, Ashley Smith.
Smith, who identified herself in the photo as “trans-woman,” posted the picture on social media with the hashtag #bathroombuddy.
“How will the Potty Police know I’m transgender if the Governor doesn’t,” Smith posted online.