State Politics

Patrick fires back at critics of ‘bathroom bill’

File: Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick holds a news conference at the Republican Party of Texas Headquarters, Monday, Jan. 9, 2017, in Austin, Texas. Patrick is firing back at critics of the so-called “bathroom bill” he supports. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
File: Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick holds a news conference at the Republican Party of Texas Headquarters, Monday, Jan. 9, 2017, in Austin, Texas. Patrick is firing back at critics of the so-called “bathroom bill” he supports. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) AP

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick continued to fire back Wednesday at criticism of the so-called bathroom bill he has championed, saying its opponents are concentrated in the media and denying that Texas could experience the same economic — and political — fallout North Carolina did when it passed similar legislation.

“Every report of North Carolina shows that they have the second-strongest economy in the country or the second-best place to do business, the second-best place where executives want to move their companies to,” Patrick said in an interview with Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith. “It’s having no effect.”

Texas business leaders are warning that such legislation could cost the state up to $8.5 billion and over 100,000 jobs. But Patrick and his allies have challenged those figures, saying they are based on flawed data, and pushed forward with Senate Bill 6, which would require transgender people to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings and public universities based on “biological sex.”

Texas is often picked to host of major sporting events, including the Super Bowl in Houston next month, the NCAA women’s Final Four in Dallas in March and the NCAA men’s Final Four in San Antonio in 2018. Phillip Jones, president of the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he doesn’t think leagues will hesitate to steer big sporting events elsewhere if Texas goes the way of North Carolina.

“This is not speculation. This is facts, based on what we’ve seen first-hand,” Jones said of the economic fallout.

The NCAA didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday about Texas’ transgender bathroom bill. Dallas tourism officials are part of a new campaign against the efforts called “Texas Welcomes All,” but noticeably absent from their first news conference were representatives from Houston.

A spokesman for the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau said he didn’t have immediate comment about the campaign but took a message. The association previously supported a broad equal rights city ordinance that Houston voters rejected in 2015, when opponents campaigned on a message of “No men in women’s bathrooms.”

Patrick also said Wednesday he was not worried about a political backlash to the Texas bill, which he unveiled Thursday with state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham. He disputed the idea that North Carolina’s bathroom bill recently led to the defeat of its governor, Pat McCrory, saying it was Lt. Gov. Dan Forest who championed the bill in the legislature, while McCrory “sat on the sidelines until the very end.”

“If anyone should’ve lost an election, it was Dan Forest,” Patrick said. “He got more votes than anyone on the ticket.”

Patrick complained vigorously about media coverage of Senate Bill 6, saying it overlooks polls that show broad support for the cause. The only people who oppose the bill in the surveys, Patrick insisted, are “Anglo liberals, and many of them work in the media.”

The bill is expected to face an uphill battle in the Legislature, where House Speaker Joe Straus has said the issue is not the “most urgent concern of mine.” Patrick declined to say Wednesday whether he believes there is even enough support for the legislation in the chamber he oversees.

“We will find out when we bring it to the floor,” Patrick said, adding he is “always confident” but has not counted the votes yet in the Senate.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in the House on Wednesday already found themselves sparring over who is allowed to use which bathroom in the Capitol.

During a House floor debate on House Resolution 3, a standard housekeeping resolution that sets the rules for the people with access to the House chamber as well as salaries for certain Capitol employees, state Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, offered an amendment that would restrict people in the Capitol to using bathrooms that correspond to their biological sex.

House Administration committee Chairman Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, wasted no time Wednesday in employing a parliamentary maneuver called a point of order aimed at scuttling Schaefer’s proposal. Geren argued that the amendment wasn’t germane, or relevant, enough to the resolution. He noted that the State Preservation Board, not House rules, decides the policies for the Capitol.

After a delay on the House floor, the amendment was eventually withdrawn.

Other issues

In addition to criticism for opponents of the bathroom bill, Patrick also had strong words for foes of the state’s A-F grading system for public schools and districts. Education leaders have fought the new system, which released its first marks earlier this month, saying it relies too much on state test performance.

“Anyone who thinks in the education community that ... that system is going away — not going away,” Patrick said. “If we can grade our students — if their futures are impacted like that — our schools should be under the same grades.”

Addressing more recent news, Patrick acknowledged that lawmakers are facing a tighter fiscal picture than they did last session, especially following the dour revenue estimate Comptroller Glenn Hegar delivered Monday. Asked if the state could still afford additional tax relief, Patrick struck a somewhat less enthusiastic tone about the prospect than he has in recent weeks.

“Well, like I said before, some things are pretty obvious,” Patrick said. “You don’t have as much money to work with this session. You have to meet the needs of our constituents and the people of Texas, and we will address that issue as we go along. We have a long way to go.”

This report includes material from The Associated Press.

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

Speaking before the morning session at the State GOP Convention in Dallas, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick speaks about the FWISD transgendered bathroom controversy.

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