State Politics

Businesses say anti-LGBT bills could cost Texas billions of dollars

FILE - In this Monday, April 25, 2016 file photo, Lee Churchill, of Raleigh, shows her support of HB2 during a rally at the Halifax Mall in Raleigh, N.C. While demonstrators circled North Carolina's statehouse on Monday, for and against a Republican-backed law curtailing protections for LGBT people and limiting public bathroom access for transgender people, House Democrats filed a repeal bill that did not pass. Efforts in Texas to pass a so-called “bathroom bill” next year have led to stern warnings from the business community over the potential for the state to lose billions of dollars in economic benefits if such legislation passes. (Chuck Liddy/The News & Observer via AP)
FILE - In this Monday, April 25, 2016 file photo, Lee Churchill, of Raleigh, shows her support of HB2 during a rally at the Halifax Mall in Raleigh, N.C. While demonstrators circled North Carolina's statehouse on Monday, for and against a Republican-backed law curtailing protections for LGBT people and limiting public bathroom access for transgender people, House Democrats filed a repeal bill that did not pass. Efforts in Texas to pass a so-called “bathroom bill” next year have led to stern warnings from the business community over the potential for the state to lose billions of dollars in economic benefits if such legislation passes. (Chuck Liddy/The News & Observer via AP) AP

With the legislative session just weeks ahead, the Texas business community is digging in its heels in opposition to Texas Republicans’ anti-LGBT proposals, warning they could have dire consequences on the state’s economy.

Representatives for the Texas Association of Business said Tuesday that Republican efforts to pass a bill to keep transgender people from using the restroom that aligns with their gender identity and another that would shield religious objectors to same-sex marriage could cost the state between $964 million and $8.5 billion and more than 100,000 jobs. Those figures are part of a new report from the prominent business group.

Protecting Texas from billions of dollars in losses is simple: Don’t pass unnecessary laws that discriminate against Texans and our visitors.

Chris Wallace, president of the Texas Association of Business

“The message from the Texas business community is loud and clear,” Chris Wallace, president of the Texas Association of Business, said at a news conference at the Texas Capitol during which he was joined by representatives for ad agency GSD&M, IT company TechNet and SXSW. “Protecting Texas from billions of dollars in losses is simple: Don’t pass unnecessary laws that discriminate against Texans and our visitors.”

Those figures — based on an economic impact study conducted by St. Edward’s University and commissioned by the business group — depict the possible economic fallout in Texas, mostly from tourism and events, if lawmakers move forward with legislation similar to North Carolina’s so-called bathroom bill and Indiana’s so-called religious freedom law.

The North Carolina's bathroom law nullified local ordinances that expanded protections to lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender residents and regulated public restrooms to keep transgender residents from using the restroom that aligns with their gender identity. Indiana's religious freedom bill would have made it easier for religious objectors to same-sex marriage to refuse services to same-sex couples. But it was later clarified to indicate that businesses cannot use the legislation as justification to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation.

For at least a decade, cities including Dallas, Austin and Fort Worth have had comprehensive ordinances offering LGBT residents some degree of protection against discrimination in employment, housing and other public accommodations, such as bathrooms. Other cities have rules to protect city employees from discrimination.

But among the other anti-LGBT proposals in Texas are one to pre-empt local ordinances that extend protections to LGBT residents and legislation to shield religious objectors to same-sex marriage if they refuse to serve same-sex couples.

Though the Texas Association of Business and Republicans are regularly legislative comrades, the business group has long warned lawmakers against moving forward with anti-LGBT efforts, and it has picked up its lobbying against those proposals as Republican leaders, namely Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, have vowed to push more extreme measures.

I’ll listen to all sides on this issue and ensure the city of Fort Worth is advocating for what’s best for all citizens and the business community.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price

Local reaction

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and Bill Thornton, president of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, reacting to the TAB report, said Tuesday that they will wait until the legislation is filed to comment or take a position in the debate.

“I’ll listen to all sides on this issue and ensure the city of Fort Worth is advocating for what’s best for all citizens and the business community,” Price said.

“Our leadership would like to see the details,” chamber spokeswoman Andra Bennett House said. “Our government affairs committee will examine the TAB study and are in discussions with other large-city chambers of commerce throughout the state.”

Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams said he doesn’t want the city to do anything that would jeopardize the stream of major events to AT&T Stadium and potential non-Texas Rangers events expected to be held in the new $1 billion retractable-roof stadium expected to open in 2020.

“Needless to say, we’re wanting our momentum to continue,” Williams said. “Certainly, locally, we’ve been able to take care of our citizens. For us, we haven’t had any problems, and we don’t want to do anything to hurt our tourism and our opportunity to increase that.”

Staff writers Sandra Baker and Robert Cadwallader contributed to this report.

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