Texas' tourism industry is placing itself on the front lines of Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's effort to regulate where people use the restroom.
Fearing a similar backlash to those which have happened in Indiana and North Carolina, convention and tourism wranglers from across the state Wednesday joined together at the state Capitol. They excoriated Patrick for the effects his bill, state Senate Bill 6, might have on business interests. The bill requires people to use public facilities consistent with the sex listed on their birth certificate.
"We've all gathered here to send a message to Texas leaders and to the Texas legislature," said Phillip Jones, CEO of VisitDallas. "Any attempt to pass legislation which is designed to discriminate against our fellow citizens under the guise of privacy, or anything else, will result in a multi-billion dollar disaster for our economy."
Jones announced a new campaign backed by colleagues from convention and visitors bureaus in Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio as well as executives from private convention organizers. Dubbed "Texas Welcomes All," the campaign's goal is to highlight the potential economic consequences of Patrick's bill.
"The discriminatory bill in Texas will cause our members and their organizations to cancel and not book meetings in Texas," said Debra Sexton, president and CEO of the Professional Convention Management Association. "This has been proved already in other states where similar bills have been approved."
A study by Austin-based St. Edward's University, commissioned by the Texas Association of Business late last year, concluded that the state would lose about $8.5 billion in business and 185,000 jobs in the proposed law's initial roll-out, due to the loss of potential Texas events. [Update: The study's lower range is $964 million.] For example, the NCAA and NBA pulled events from North Carolina after a similar bill became law there.
Patrick defended his bathroom bill vigorously on Wednesday. During a live interview held as part of the Texas Tribune's legislative session-opening conversations series, Patrick told a live audience that the only people who oppose bathroom bills like his are "Anglo liberals, and many of them work in the media."
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"Does anyone in here who has grandchildren, have a granddaughter who's 8 or 9, want them to walk into a bathroom with a man?" Patrick said.
Later at a speech in front of the nonpartisan Texas Public Policy Foundation, Patrick stated his case without much nuance. "Maybe it is just me, but momma said men don't go into the ladies room," he said. "Sorry."
SB 6 is expected to get a relatively easy ride in the Texas Senate, the chamber of the legislature over which Patrick presides in his role as lieutenant governor. Things could get bumpier in the Texas House, however, where Speaker Joe Strauss, a Republican, has indicated that getting a bathroom bill passed is not among his priorities.
During his opening remarks to the Texas House on Tuesday, Strauss said that the state should not "turn away economic activity."