Big Oil weighs in: No bath­room bill

Busi­nesses urge end of trans­gen­der ban ef­fort, now fail­ing in House.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Chuck Lin­dell clin­dell@states­man.com

Turn­ing up the vol­ume in what was al­ready the loud­est fight of the Leg­is­la­ture’s special ses­sion, more than 50 Hous­ton busi­ness lead­ers — in­clud­ing of­fi­cials of some of the na­tion’s largest oil com­pa­nies — sent a let­ter Mon­day ask­ing Gov. Greg Ab­bott to aban­don ef­forts to out­law trans­gen­der-friendly bath­rooms in Texas.

The let­ter, com­ing from the home­town of Lt. Gov. Dan Pa­trick, the state’s lead­ing ad­vo­cate for the leg­is­la­tion, ar­rived amid grow­ing signs that the crack­down on trans­gen­der poli­cies is in trou­ble in the Texas House.

It also opened a crit­i­cal week in the special ses­sion — one that will be marked by du­el­ing Capi­tol ral­lies, with lead­ers of var­i­ous re­li­gions gath­er­ing in op­po­si­tion Tues­day, the mid­point of the 30-day ses­sion, fol­lowed by a Thurs­day rally for sup­port­ers that will be led by con­ser­va­tive Chris­tian pas­tors.

Mon­day’s let­ter, part of a grad­u­ally build­ing cam­paign by op­po­nents, urged Ab­bott to avoid any ac­tions, “in­clud­ing the pas­sage of any ‘bath­room bill,’ that would threaten our con­tin­ued growth.”

“We sup­port di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion, and we be­lieve that any such bill risks harm­ing Texas’ rep­u­ta­tion and im­pact­ing the state’s eco­nomic growth and abil­ity to

cre­ate new jobs,” the Hous­ton-area lead­ers wrote.

It’s a fa­mil­iar ar­gu­ment among op­po­nents of bills to limit trans­gen­der-friendly bath­room poli­cies, but Mon­day’s let­ter car­ried ex­tra weight be­cause it was signed by of­fi­cials of a half-dozen For­tune 500 cor­po­ra­tions and a large slice of en­ergy in­dus­try that helped pro­pel the state’s econ­omy to such heights.

Signed by top of­fi­cials for Chevron, Cono­coPhillips, Shell Oil, ExxonMo­bil, BP Amer­ica and Cen­ter­Point En­ergy — as well as Hal­libur­ton, Dow Chem­i­cal, Siemens and Ac­cen­ture, among oth­ers — the let­ter also was copied to Pa­trick and to mem­bers of the Texas House.

Sim­i­lar let­ters had al­ready ar­rived from Dal­las-area CEOs of AT&T, Amer­i­can Air­lines, Texas In­stru­ments and 11 other cor­po­ra­tions, as well as the 200-com­pany Austin Tech­nol­ogy Coun­cil and lead­ers of 38 Austin tech com­pa­nies.

Ab­bott in­cluded the trans­gen­der bath­room is­sue among 20 pri­or­i­ties he asked law­mak­ers to ad­dress in the special ses­sion, say­ing it was es­sen­tial to pro­tect­ing the pri­vacy and safety of peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly women and girls, in in­ti­mate set­tings.

Led by Pa­trick, the Se­nate quickly passed its ver­sion of the bill last week, with ev­ery Repub­li­can and one Demo­crat giv­ing fi­nal ap­proval to Se­nate Bill 3 in a vote taken at 12:15 a.m. Wed­nes­day.

House Speaker Joe Straus, how­ever, has be­come in­creas­ingly vo­cal in his op­po­si­tion, say­ing the ef­forts are un­nec­es­sary, place trans­gen­der Tex­ans at risk and jeop­ar­dize the econ­omy.

Straus, a San An­to­nio Repub­li­can, may not even re­fer SB 3 to a com­mit­tee, leav­ing it to die un­touched by House mem­bers.

In ad­di­tion, the au­thor of two House bills to limit trans­gen­der bath­room poli­cies ac­knowl­edged Mon­day that his leg­is­la­tion is at risk.

Rep. Ron Sim­mons, R-Car­roll­ton, said he was promised a pub­lic hear­ing — but noth­ing more — on his bills by the chair­man of the House State Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, Rep. By­ron Cook, R-Cor­si­cana.

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