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Media Fact Checkers Claim Study Overstates Negative Economic Impact of Bathroom Bill

As Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s gender-based bathroom bill battles it way to become law, the Texas Association for Business finds itself under fire for a claim that such a law could cost Texas’ economy as much as $8.5 billion and 185,000 jobs. The bill requires people to use public facilities consistent with the sex listed on their birth certificate. Passage to similar legislation is other states has led to boycotts and event cancellations.

Politifact, a fact-checking website run by the Tampa Bay Times and in local partnership with Austin American-Statesman, Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News, released a report on Friday calling Texas’ leading employer organization’s claim “Mostly false with elements of truth.”

In the Feb. 3 report, Politifact spent more than 2,000 words dissecting the prominent business group’s widely cited projections and the study it commissioned from St. Edward’s University. The Polifact report argues that portions of the study are solid, but the economic effects of Patrick’s bathroom bill are unproven.

“Such a law might cause economic shivers,” Politifact says. “But we find this study’s headlined figures, reached about 13 months ago, to be based on predicted or actual effects of discriminatory mandates in Arizona, Louisiana and Indiana that didn’t make it into law or were rescinded or softened. Moreover, not all the study’s numbers, calculations and assumptions provided solid and a key figure, reflecting on Indiana losing $1.5 billion in conventions, doesn’t appear to have a documented basis.”

In a Monday morning press release, the prominent business group answered Politifact’s findings saying the report cited a wide range of possible economic damage that could happen.  The report cited damages between $964 million to $8.5 billion.

Most media headlines cited the upper range; the Dallas Observer's initial report only listed that larger number in coverage. Certainly those arrayed against the bill decried the upper reaches of the potential damage when the study was released. Phillip Jones, CEO of VisitDallas, said the bill “will result in a multi-billion dollar disaster for our economy.”

The Texas Association of Business President Chris Wallace says that all you need to do is look at what’s currently occurring economically in North Carolina, where similar legislation was passed, to see the potential damage. Over the weekend, North Carolina legislators learned that if they don’t repeal the bathroom bill, the state could lose $250 million in NCAA events, the Texas Association pointed out in its press release. This amount also doesn’t include other performances, conventions, meetings, conferences and corporate investment continuing to be canceled because of the bathroom bill.

Wallace claims the state has not only a great economy but also a great brand. “Why would we do anything that would jeopardize this image when it is not necessary?” he asks. “There is no problem that exists. So why would we jeopardize our economy to solve an unnecessary problem?

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Christian McPhate is an award-winning journalist who specializes in investigative reporting. He covers crime, the environment, business, government and social justice. His work has appeared in several publications, including the Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star Telegram, the Miami Herald, San Antonio Express News and The Washington Times.