Transgender bathroom bill gets first hearing in Texas

Transgender bathroom bill gets first hearing in Texas
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A controversial measure that would block transgender people from using the public restrooms of their choice will get its first hearing before the Texas legislature Tuesday morning, after months of feuds between its conservative sponsors and business leaders who say it would cost the state money.

The measure, Senate Bill 6, is modeled on a similar law that passed the North Carolina legislature last year. Its chief sponsors, state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R) and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), say it is necessary to maintain a single state standard, rather than a patchwork of local laws.

“The Texas Privacy Act is a thoughtful way to protect the privacy and safety of everyone,” Kolkhorst told The Hill in an email. The measure, she said, is similar to one passed by the city of Houston in 2015.

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But business groups have pointed to the fallout from the North Carolina law as a warning to Texas legislators. After North Carolina passed its ordinance, H.B. 2, preempting localities from allowing transgender people to use the facilities of their choice, several sports leagues like the NCAA, the NBA and the ACC chose to relocate events. Businesses canceled plans to move employees or facilities to North Carolina, specifically citing the new law.

North Carolina legislators have been feuding over the measure ever since. Gov. Roy Cooper (D) has demanded the measure be overturned. Republicans who control the state’s General Assembly have offered several compromises, but those efforts have fallen apart amid partisan bickering.

In Austin, the Texas Association of Business estimated that the state could lose $8.5 billion in economic activity if S.B. 6 passes. Economists and fact-checking organizations have questioned that number, which includes economic activity surrounding the Super Bowl, held last month in Houston.

Last week, about 70 businesses sent a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott (R), Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus (R) opposing the bill. American Airlines, which is headquartered in Fort Worth; Dell Inc., the largest privately held company headquartered in Texas; and tech companies like Google, Apple and Microsoft all signed the letter.

“As we have witnessed in North Carolina with H.B. 2, businesses want nothing to do with states that promote anti-LGBTQ discrimination,” said JoDee Winterhof, a senior vice president at the Human Rights Campaign.

The NFL issued its own warning to Texas, saying it would take into account any new restrictions on transgender access to bathrooms as it decides where to host future Super Bowls. 

“If a proposal that is discriminatory or inconsistent with our values were to become law [in Texas], that would certainly be a factor considered when thinking about awarding future events,” league spokesman Brian McCarthy said in an email.

The NCAA has yet to weigh in on the new Texas proposal. The annual college men’s basketball tournament is scheduled to hold the Final Four in San Antonio in 2018.