Business, tourism groups join in fight against Texas’ ‘bathroom bill’

Brad Kent, chief sales and services officer for VisitDallas, holds at sign at a news conference at the Capitol in Austin to oppose Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's bathroom bill on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017.
Brad Kent, chief sales and services officer for VisitDallas, holds at sign at a news conference at the Capitol in Austin to oppose Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's bathroom bill on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017. Austin American-Statesman via AP

A coalition of state and national business and tourism groups has joined in a campaign to defeat the so-called bathroom bill unveiled in the Texas Legislature last week.

The “Texas Welcomes All” campaign is aimed at encouraging “an inclusive and welcoming Lone Star State,” according to a coalition news release.

The groups say the bathroom bill, or “Texas Privacy Act,” by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is an attempt “to legislate discrimination against transgender adults and children.”

The bill would restrict access to bathrooms by transgender people and pre-empt local nondiscrimination ordinances, such as the Fort Worth school district’s, that protect against discrimination in public accommodations.

“Discrimination of any kind is wrong,” Phillip Jones, president and CEO of VisitDallas, says in the news release. “If passed, this legislation will have devastating consequences on our economy.”

Bob Jameson, president and CEO of the Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he is concerned about the chilling effect that SB 6 and other discriminatory legislation could have on the Texas economy, particularly in Fort Worth.

"Business and leisure tourism delivers a $2 billion economic impact each year in Fort Worth and supports more than 20,000 jobs,” he said in a statement. “An important driver behind that is our friendly hospitality and a strong message that all are welcome here. We want to maintain that.”

The coalition projects a short-term GDP loss of $8.5 billion annually in travel and tourism dollars in Texas, and says enactment of the law would put an estimated 185,000 jobs in the state at risk.

A similar law in North Carolina has led to economic boycotts of the state, lawsuits, political discord and contributed to the defeat of then-Gov. Pat McCrory. Musicians Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr canceled concerts there and the NCAA barred the University of North Carolina from hosting seven championship events this year.

The “Texas Welcomes All” coalition consists of Texas Convention and Visitors Bureaus including Arlington and Fort Worth, VisitDallas, San Antonio and Austin, as well as leaders from the Professional Convention Management Association, the American Society of Association Executives, the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, and TechNet.

“Restroom laws are one of the top policy deterrents for planning conventions, conferences and meetings,” said Deborah Sexton, president and CEO of the Professional Convention Management Association. “Our industry holds 1.83 million meetings annually and brings $28 billion in U.S. federal, state and local taxes annually; with more than $280 billion in annual U.S. direct spending spurred by our sector. Should SB6 be signed into law, you ensure Texas’s future percentage of these taxes and spending will exponentially be reduced.”

Lt. Gov. Patrick again dismissed criticism of the bill Wednesday, saying those opposed to it are mainly in the media. And he denied Texas would experience the same economic and political turmoil as North Carolina did.

“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.”

He says the business leaders’ projections of lost revenue and jobs are based on flawed data.

As for being a welcoming state, Texas prides itself on being recognized as one of the friendliest states in the country; in fact it’s state motto is “Friendship.” Moreover, the very origin of “Texas” came from the Indians of East Texas who used it to mean “friends.”

“Southern hospitality is what we’ve been known for since the beginning,” the Texas Welcomes All website says. “Deep in the heart of Texas, from our contemporary and modern cities to our small and charming towns, and from every corner of our state – we welcome all.”

Tom Uhler: 817-390-7832, @tomuh

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