Joe Straus and Byron Cook, two retiring moderate Texas House Republicans, got in their last licks on their frequent opponents, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, with the release of a Straus-commissioned report on Texas' economic competitiveness.
By publicly championing legislation last year to keep transgender people from choosing which public toilets to choose, the report argues, Patrick, Abbott and other Texas leaders drove business away, threatened the state's future prospects and wasted lawmakers' time that would've been better spent on issues such as education and property taxes.
"It concerned many business leaders when the governor added the [bathroom bill] as a priority in the 30-day special session because it endangered the state's competitive edge," the report from the House Select Committee on Economic Competitiveness says. "Ultimately small and large businesses engaged and had to devote an extraordinary amount of effort and resources on this needless legislation."
Straus, the House speaker, put together the select committee after regular and special sessions that he felt threatened Texas' standing in the global business community. Straus also faced criticism from Abbott after refusing to allow the bathroom bill to come to a vote on the House floor. He installed Cook, a longtime ally, as the committee's chairman and stocked the rest of the committee with Democrats and Republicans, among them Houston-area Rep. Sarah Davis, who've clashed with state leadership as it's lurched to the right. Considering that, the committee's conclusions, which came after hours of testimony from law enforcement, LGBTQ people and the Texas business community, don't come as a surprise.
"Although this legislation was touted by its proponents as necessary for protecting the 'privacy and safety' of
women and children, law enforcement testified that there were already laws on the books to protect women and children from any crime that could possibly occur in any restroom," the report says. "Moreover, the legislation only applied to government buildings. If the proposed law was so necessary to 'protect women and children,' why would it not also apply to all public restrooms? If passed, would that have meant that women and children were not safe using non-government restrooms and why would that be acceptable?"
In order for Texas to continue to recruit corporations to move to the state, Abbott, Patrick and the rest of the state's leadership must promise that they won't seek another bathroom bill during the 2019 session, Cook and his colleagues write.
"Unless and until this public commitment is made, we will likely lose out to other states for not only bids like Amazon's HQ2 and its $5 billion investment and 50,000 new jobs, but other business opportunities as well," the report says. "Texas House leadership did defeat this bad proposal twice. ... However, that may not be enough to entice companies such as Amazon to choose Texas for the location of its HQ2. When policymakers even contemplate ideas that put business viability at risk, it injects uncertainty in the economy."
If companies believe that Texas legally discriminates, or might legally discriminate, against LGBTQ individuals, companies won't move here and big-time events will skip over the state for locales that can provide a better quality of life, according to the committee. The state should celebrate its diversity, the report says.
"Potential discriminatory legislation is another factor affecting quality of life assessments and was a major concern for witnesses representing the hospitality, transportation, technology and entertainment industries," the report says. "Diversity and inclusion are priorities for many companies and any legislation that would affect these values and principles would deter businesses from locating to Texas."
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Equality Texas CEO Chuck Smith praised the committee Tuesday afternoon for trying to shift Texas' legislative priorities.
"The bathroom bill and other discriminatory legislation targets LGBTQ Texans, is bad for the Texas brand and bad for business. We are proud of our state and we want our leaders to stop discriminating against us and wasting time and money," Smith said. "The state should be focusing on real problems like properly funding education, investing in infrastructure and preventing children from dying in state foster care."
It isn't clear if Patrick, who did not return a request for comment, plans to push for another bathroom bill during next year's legislative session. As for Abbott, who identified the bill as one of his priorities for the the special session he called last spring, it's unclear if he ever genuinely supported the bill. Cook told San Antonio Express-News reporters Tuesday that the the governor's staff worked behind the scenes to scuttle the bill while Abbott offered his public support.
“The bottom line was, they did not want this bill on the governor’s desk,” Cook said. “We had been hearing this also from industry leaders, which corroborated the same thing we were told directly.”