Foes of bath­room bill keep up the pres­sure

Op­po­nents stay on mes­sage even as leg­is­la­tion’s fate dims.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Chuck Lin­dell and Johnathan Silver clin­dell@states­man.com jsil­ver@states­man.com

With prospects for trans­gen­der bath­room lim­its getting slim­mer by the day in the Leg­is­la­ture, op­po­nents kept press­ing the gas pedal Tues­day, hold­ing the lat­est in a se­ries of Capi­tol events meant to show­case broad dis­ap­proval of the most con­tentious item on a spe­cial ses­sion agenda filled with hot-but­ton is­sues.

First, dozens of women busi­ness and com­mu­nity lead­ers from across Texas stood on the Capi­tol’s south steps to say they don’t feel threat­ened by shar- ing re­strooms with trans­gen­der women and don’t ap­pre­ci­ate “dis­crim­i­na­tory” poli­cies be­ing made in their name.

Then of­fi­cials from the in­flu­en­tial Texas Travel In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion aban­doned months of quiet op­po­si­tion, telling Gov. Greg Ab­bott that his ef­fort to limit trans­gen­der-friendly bath­rooms is smear­ing the state’s rep­u­ta­tion and en­dan­ger­ing hun­dreds of small busi­nesses.

“As an in­dus­try that de­pends on a healthy and wel­com­ing Texas brand, th­ese types of pub­lic poli­cies are ... po­ten­tially cat­a­strophic,” David Teel, pres­i­dent of the as­so­ci­a­tion, said dur­ing an af­ter­noon news con­fer­ence.

The Texas Se­nate had heeded Ab­bott’s call and quickly passed a bill re­quir­ing schools and lo­cal gov­ern­ments to limit the use of mul­ti­ple-oc­cu­pancy bath­rooms and changing rooms to the sex listed on a per­son’s birth cer­tifi­cate or other gov­ern­ment doc­u­ment.

That bill has been ig­nored in the House, where Speaker Joe Straus, R-San An­to­nio, has made good on his op­po­si­tion by fail­ing to re­fer Se­nate Bill 3 to a com­mit­tee for ac­tion.

And it ap­pears in­creas­ingly likely that sim­i­lar House bills are des­tined to die in the State Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, where Chair­man By­ron Cook, R-Cor­si­cana, has in­di­cated that there will be no com­mit­tee ac­tion on the mea­sures, keep­ing the leg­is­la­tion from a vote on the House floor.

Sup­port­ers aren’t yet done push­ing back, how­ever, ar­gu­ing that the bills are needed to pro­tect the pri­vacy and safety of women and girls in in­ti­mate set­tings.

Texas Val­ues, a Chris­tian pub­lic pol­icy ad­vo­cacy group, urged its mem­bers Tues­day to pres­sure 40 House Repub­li­cans who haven’t signed on as co-au­thors to House Bill 46, which would ban anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion pro­tec­tions for trans­gen­der peo­ple in mul­ti­ple-oc­cu­pancy re­strooms, show­ers and changing fa­cil­i­ties.

Con­ser­va­tive ac­tivists also have be­gun sup­port­ing GOP pri­mary chal­lenges to Cook and other bath­room bill op­po­nents in next year’s elec­tions.

Ab­bott, whose 20-item spe­cial ses­sion agenda in­cludes abor­tion reg­u­la­tions and lim­its on the author­ity of cities, raised the stakes re­cently, say­ing he plans to get in­volved in pri­mary races to sup­port con­ser­va­tive can­di­dates — though he stopped short, for now, of say­ing he would target in­cum­bents.

The ac­tiv­ity en­sures that the spe­cial ses­sion’s im­pact will con­tinue to rip­ple across the state’s po­lit­i­cal land­scape for months.

On Tues­day, the 22nd day of the 30-day spe­cial ses­sion, the fe­male busi­ness lead­ers who ral­lied at the Capi­tol de­scribed trans­gen­der bath­room lim­its as un­nec­es­sary and bad for busi­ness.

“Like most moth­ers, I have been fiercely protective of my chil­dren, but never, ever have I felt threat­ened in a bath­room or a locker room, and I am skep­ti­cal that the safety and pri­vacy of women and chil­dren is the true mo­tive be­hind th­ese bills,” said Libby Averyt, a United Cor­pus Christi Cham­ber of Com­merce board mem­ber.

Diane Craw­ford, global com­mer­cial op­er­a­tions di­rec­tor for Irv­ing-based Ce­lanese Corp., said peo­ple “look at the whole state” be­fore de­cid­ing to move or spend money there.

“In­creas­ing num­bers of tal­ented work­ers do not want to be associated with a place that en­acts le­gal­ized dis­crim­i­na­tion against peo­ple who are al­ready vul­ner­a­ble,” she said.

At Tues­day’s tourism in­dus­try event, Teel said many of the 700 mem­bers of the Texas Travel In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion — par­tic­u­larly own­ers of small busi­nesses — said op­po­si­tion to trans­gen­der bath­room lim­its should be the top pri­or­ity in the spe­cial ses­sion.

“It af­fects ev­ery­one from the small mom-and-pops to the largest of cor­po­ra­tions, and it’s some­thing we have to en­gage in,” he said.

Econ­o­mist Ray Per­ry­man said his study of the bath­room leg­is­la­tion’s im­pact found that pas­sage would lead to a $3.3 bil­lion de­cline in the gross state prod­uct and the loss of 36,000 jobs — with much of the dam­age felt in the travel and tourism in­dus­try.

“It is a very big in­dus­try, but it’s also a very frag­ile in­dus­try,” Per­ry­man said.

RALPH BARRERA/AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Belinda Matin­gou, re­gional ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Texas As­so­ci­a­tion of Busi­ness, speaks to a large crowd of Texas fe­male lead­ers on the south steps of the Capi­tol on Tues­day in op­po­si­tion to a bill in the Leg­is­la­ture re­strict­ing trans­gen­der ac­cess to re­strooms.

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