Oil com­pa­nies op­pose Texas ‘bath­room bill’

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Jenny Jarvie Jarvie is a special cor­re­spon­dent.

In a sig­nif­i­cant blow to Texas cul­tural con­ser­va­tives, some of the na­tion’s most pow­er­ful oil and gas com­pa­nies on Mon­day joined the cho­rus of busi­ness voices op­pos­ing Repub­li­can law­mak­ers’ con­tentious “bath­room bill” tar­get­ing trans­gen­der peo­ple.

Lead­ers of more than 50 Hous­ton-based busi­nesses, in­clud­ing BP Amer­ica, Chevron, ExxonMo­bil, Shell and Hal­libur­ton, signed a let­ter to Repub­li­can Gov. Greg Ab­bott urg­ing him not to sign a so-called bath­room bill that would harm their abil­ity to at­tract tal­ent from around the world.

“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,” they wrote in a let­ter or­ga­nized by the Greater Hous­ton Part­ner­ship, an eco­nomic devel­op­ment group serv­ing the Hous­ton met­ro­pol­i­tan area.

“Any bill that harms our abil­ity to at­tract top tal­ent to Hous­ton will in­hibit our growth and con­tin­ued suc­cess — and ul­ti­mately the suc­cess of our great state.”

The state’s staunchly con­ser­va­tive Se­nate passed con­tro­ver­sial leg­is­la­tion, Se­nate Bill 3, last week. It would re­strict ac­cess to bath­rooms, show­ers and chang­ing fa­cil­i­ties in gov­ern­ment build­ings and pub­lic schools based on the sex listed on a per­son’s birth cer­tifi­cate. It would also ban cities, coun­ties and schools from adopt­ing nondis­crim­i­na­tion or­di­nances that al­low trans­gen­der peo­ple to use pub­lic re­strooms of their choice or par­tic­i­pate in ath­letic events that match their gen­der iden­tity.

The leg­is­la­tion faces an up­hill bat­tle in the House, where Speaker Joe Straus, a cen­trist Repub­li­can, has sig­naled he has lit­tle in­ter­est in passing a bill he deems un­nec­es­sary and dis­crim­i­na­tory.

“I’m dis­gusted by all this,” Straus told New Yorker mag­a­zine in a re­cent in­ter­view. “Tell the lieu­tenant gov­er­nor I don’t want the sui­cide of a sin­gle Texan on my hands.”

Al­ready, a string of For­tune 500 cor­po­ra­tions, in­clud­ing AT&T, Amer­i­can Air­lines, Face­book and Ap­ple, has con­demned the leg­is­la­tion. But com­pa­nies such as ExxonMo­bil and Hal­libur­ton — more tra­di­tion­ally associated with con­ser­va­tive val­ues — have more clout in the state’s Repub­li­can cir­cles.

“This is one more nail in the bath­room bill’s cof­fin,” said Mark Jones, a fel­low in po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at Rice Univer­sity’s Baker In­sti­tute for Pub­lic Pol­icy. “What we have here are not only a group of very pow­er­ful and im­por­tant com­pa­nies, but en­ergy com­pa­nies that are gen­er­ally as­sumed to be among the most re­li­able al­lies of the Repub­li­can Party. They gen­er­ally don’t get in­volved in these types of fights, and here they are send­ing a shot across the bow that this leg­is­la­tion is bad for busi­ness.”

Ab­bott in­cluded a bath­room bill on his list of con­ser­va­tive pri­or­i­ties when he called law­mak­ers back to Austin this month for a special ses­sion.

Op­po­si­tion from a slew of Texas com­pa­nies would help Straus block the law and push Ab­bott and Lt. Gov. Dan Pa­trick into a cor­ner, Jones said. Ul­ti­mately, he said, the let­ter from the oil com­pa­nies might be read as a warn­ing to the gov­er­nor not to call a sec­ond special ses­sion if the House failed to pass a bath­room bill.

“This isn’t Face­book or Ap­ple, which many Texas Repub­li­cans would see as tied to the global elite that comes from the coasts of Cal­i­for­nia and New York,” he said. “They can’t dis­miss this as the Austin tech in­dus­try. Repub­li­can pri­mary vot­ers aren’t go­ing to dis­miss

‘Vot­ers aren’t go­ing to dis­miss com­plaints by Hal­libur­ton as sim­ply the coastal elite try­ing to im­pose their cul­tural val­ues on us.’ — Mark Jones, po­lit­i­cal sci­ence fel­low at Rice Univer­sity

com­plaints by Hal­libur­ton as sim­ply the coastal elite try­ing to im­pose their cul­tural val­ues on us.”

Two weeks ago, IBM, one of the state’s largest em­ploy­ers, took out full-page ads in ma­jor news­pa­pers in Austin, Dal­las and San An­to­nio, say­ing, “No one should face dis­crim­i­na­tion for be­ing who they are.”

The Texas Assn. of Busi­ness has also run ra­dio ads warn­ing that an “un­nec­es­sary” bill deemed to dis­crim­i­nate against trans­gen­der peo­ple may cost Texas the 2018 NFL draft.

A sim­i­lar con­tro­versy al­ready has played out in North Carolina. Ear­lier this year, af­ter sus­tained busi­ness op­po­si­tion and boy­cotts of ma­jor sport­ing and mu­sic events, law­mak­ers in that state re­pealed House Bill 2, a sweep­ing law that re­stricted bath­room ac­cess for trans­gen­der peo­ple.

North Carolina leg­is­la­tors at­tempted to craft a new com­pro­mise, House Bill 142, which re­moved the most con­tro­ver­sial part of the law that re­quired trans­gen­der peo­ple to use re­strooms in pub­lic build­ings ac­cord­ing to the sex on their birth cer­tifi­cates. But last month, the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union and Lambda Le­gal filed a new court chal­lenge against the re­vised law.

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