HOUSTON - It's still weeks away from being debated by state lawmakers, but the public discussion over the so-called “bathroom bill” is in full swing.
Opponents are speculating it could cause major sports events like the Super Bowl to remove Houston from future consideration.
They say passing Senate Bill 6 could cost the Texas economy $8.5 billion and 185,000 jobs in the first year alone.
During the first week of the 85th Texas Legislative session, tourism leaders from Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio have spent their week at the Capitol trying to warn lawmakers about a bill they say will be devastating for tourism and new job creation. They say if you need proof, just look at North Carolina.
As crews across Houston make last-minute preps for Super Bowl 51, there's plenty of noise being made over whether Texas will see another one anytime soon. Even before lawmakers gaveled in the new legislative session Tuesday, the fierce debate on this hot button issue was already going strong.
"I heard the same threats in Houston,” said Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, during a Jan. 5 press conference.
Lt. Gov. Patrick brushed off opponents' claims that SB 6, which would require Texans, including transgendered people, to use the bathroom or locker room of their biological gender, would be bad for business. Patrick says he heard the same thing when voters struck down Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance, which had a similar provision, in 2015.
"I'm not aware of any business that didn't move to Houston because of that bill,” said Lt. Gov. Patrick.
The bill's author, Senator Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), says if a private business is leasing a public bathroom or locker room, it can make its own policy.
However, Hudson Taylor, founder and executive director of Athlete Ally, a group that works closely with professional sports leagues and the NCAA to end discrimination against the LGBT community in sports, isn’t as optimistic.
"If SB 6 becomes law, I fear that Texas will lose out on a lot of the sports that they've come to know and love,” Taylor said.
Taylor says the leagues are watching SB 6 closely. After North Carolina passed a similar bill, House Bill 2, in March 2016, the NBA All Star Game and seven NCAA championship games left North Carolina, and companies like PayPal and Deutsche Bank cancelled job expansion plans. Forbes says HB 2 cost that state’s economy more than $600 million in just eight months.
"The sports community has made it very clear that they are not going to be rewarding states or communities that don't protect and respect their LGBT constituents,” Taylor said.
Houston's Super Bowl Host Committee and the Greater Houston Partnership have signed on to "Texas Competes," a partnership of more than 1,000 business leaders pushing the state to be welcoming to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Mike Waterman, president of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitor's Bureau, told KHOU his organization has signed on, too, and released the following statement:
“The Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau is committed to ensuring Houston remains an open and welcoming place for all residents and visitors. That is why we signed on as a partner for Texas Competes, which champions the interest of businesses and organizations across the state. The GHCVB is currently working with hospitality industry partners from across Texas to educate legislators that we prefer to be allowed to do what we do best: welcome visitors to our city and state and not have lawmakers legislate how we do that.”
The bill’s opponents are worried about two upcoming sports events in particular: the Women’s NCAA Final Four in Dallas this spring, and the Men’s Final Four in San Antonio in 2018. So far, the league has not commented on the future of either.
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