Texas ‘Bathroom Bill’ Filed Despite Business Objections

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) – A Texas state senator Thursday filed a bill that would ban counties, cities and public schools from letting transgender people use bathrooms of their choice, despite warnings from the Texas Association of Business that it could cost the state billions of dollars in tourist and convention revenue.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, promised weeks ago to make such legislation a priority for the state’s 85th legislative session, which starts Jan. 10. The Legislature meets every odd-numbered year.

Patrick found an ally in state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, who said Thursday that she filed S.B. 6, the Texas Privacy Act, to fight federal overreach — a frequent complaint of Texas Republicans during President Barack Obama’s tenure.

“In May of 2016, the federal government issued an edict to all Texas schools, requiring them to provide students access to restrooms, showers, and dressing rooms based on ‘an individual’s internal sense of gender.’ Alarming both parents and the public, the federal proposal to have boys and girls potentially showering and using the same restroom, has been largely ignored by the mainstream media,” Kolkhorst said in a statement.

Patrick admires a similar bill North Carolina passed in 2015. He congratulated North Carolina lawmakers for rejecting a proposed repeal of Senate Bill 2 in December. “Legislation to protect women’s privacy and business is essential to assure that sexual predators, like those who exploit the internet, will not be able to freely enter women’s restrooms, locker rooms or showers,” Patrick said just before Christmas.

North Carolina’s “bathroom bill,” bans counties and cities from expanding anti-discrimination laws to protect transgender people and requires them to use bathrooms that match their birth genders. It has cost the state millions of dollars in tax revenue and hundreds of jobs.

The NCAA pulled seven championship events out of North Carolina to protest the law, and the Atlantic Coast Conference pulled its championship tournaments out of the state as well. Lionsgate canceled a film project there, calling the law “deplorable and discriminatory;” PayPal dropped plans to open a center that would have brought North Carolina 400 jobs, and Deutsche Bank scrapped a plan to hire 250 new technology workers in the state. Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr, Pearl Jam, Eddie Vedder and Cirque de Soleil canceled shows in the state.

In Texas, Kolkhorst said her bill will let private businesses set their own policies, an apparent olive branch offered to the 4,000-member Texas Association of Business, which commissioned a study on “The Economic Impact of Discriminatory Legislation on the State of Texas.”

The heavily documented study warned lawmakers that “so-called ‘Religious Freedom’ and ‘Bathroom Bills’” could cost Texas $964 million to $8.5 billion in economic losses, and as many as 185,000 jobs.

In addition, the study, conducted by university researchers in Austin, said that such discriminatory legislation could “serve as a catalyst for domestic and global companies to choose other states over Texas to start or expand their business, [and] alienate large, globally recognized businesses, including Apple, Google, Starbucks, British Petroleum, Marriott, IBM, PayPal and the National Football League,” which have opposed such laws.

The Texas Association of Business concluded in its executive summary: “Based on the findings from the commissioned studies and data from other states, the Texas Association of Business strongly opposes any legislation that would broaden the current Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act or other discriminatory legislation that would impact workforce recruitment and/or cause a negative economic impact on the state.”

Though there have been no reports of transgender-related assaults in bathrooms or locker rooms in Texas or anywhere in the United States, S.B. 6 would enhance criminal penalties for such crimes.

The penalty for sexual contact with a child, a second-degree felony, for example, would be punishable as a first-degree felony, if it happened in a bathroom or “changing facility.”

Local governments and school districts that defy the restrictions would expose themselves to potential lawsuits and stiff fines.

The state attorney general could sue them for up to $1,500 for the first violation and $10,500 for subsequent violations, with each day out of compliance counting as a violation.

The bill would, however, give school districts some leeway. Districts could provide “a single-occupancy bathroom or changing facility or the controlled use of a faculty bathroom or changing facility” for transgender people, and private companies renting public buildings could let people use whatever bathroom they want.

S.B. 6 would allow people to enter bathrooms and locker rooms for janitorial or maintenance work, for medical emergencies, to accompany a disabled person and with children younger than 8.

“This bill is written not to begin a controversy, but to end one,” Kolkhorst said in a statement. “The Texas Privacy Act is a thoughtful solution to a sensitive issue. It preserves an expected level of privacy for our public schools and buildings.”

Texas has successfully challenged two federal anti-transgender discrimination rules. Texas and 12 other states sued the federal government in response to its May 2016 directive for public schools to honor their students’ preferred gender identities.

The states said the Obama administration misinterpreted Title IX, which bans sex discrimination in public schools, to include gender-identity discrimination claims.

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor, a George W. Bush appointee, agreed in August, granting Texas a nationwide preliminary injunction.

Texas also persuaded O’Connor to grant a preliminary injunction on New Year’s Eve against an Affordable Care Act rule it claims would force doctors to do sex-change surgeries despite their religious objections.

Texas officials already have asked state agencies to cut their budgets by 4 percent for the next two-year budget cycle, 2018-2019, due in part to lost tax revenue from companies that went bankrupt after the price of oil crashed in 2014.

But despite the possible economic consequences of S.B. 6, Lt. Gov. Patrick says Texas needs it to deter predators.

“This issue is not about discrimination — it’s about public safety, protecting businesses and common sense. I congratulate Sen. Kolkhorst for filing S.B. 6 and for her commitment to protecting the privacy of Texans and keeping them safe,” Patrick said in a statement.

It’s not Kolkhorst’s first controversial proposal. She filed in bill in 2011 to let Texas law enforcement drop off undocumented immigrants at any U.S. congressional office, calling it a “cry for help” for better border security.