With prospects for transgender bathroom limits getting slimmer by the day in the Legislature, opponents kept pressing the gas pedal Tuesday, holding the latest in a series of Capitol events meant to showcase broad disapproval of the most contentious item on a special session agenda filled with hot-button issues.
First, dozens of women business and community leaders from across Texas stood on the Capitol’s south steps to say they don’t feel threatened by sharing restrooms with transgender women and don’t appreciate “discriminatory” policies being made in their name.
Then officials from the influential Texas Travel Industry Association abandoned months of quiet opposition, telling Gov. Greg Abbott that his effort to limit transgender-friendly bathrooms is smearing the state’s reputation and endangering hundreds of small businesses.
“As an industry that depends on a healthy and welcoming Texas brand, these types of public policies are … potentially catastrophic,” David Teel, president of the association, said during an afternoon news conference.
The Texas Senate had heeded Abbott’s call and quickly passed a bill requiring schools and local governments to limit the use of multiple-occupancy bathrooms and changing rooms to the sex listed on a person’s birth certificate or other government document.
That bill has been ignored in the House, where Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, has made good on his opposition by failing to refer Senate Bill 3 to a committee for action.
And it appears increasingly likely that similar House bills are destined to die in the State Affairs Committee, where Chairman Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, has indicated that there will be no committee action on the measures, keeping the legislation from a vote on the House floor.
Supporters aren’t yet done pushing back, however, arguing that the bills are needed to protect the privacy and safety of women and girls in intimate settings.
Texas Values, a Christian public policy advocacy group, urged its members Tuesday to pressure 40 House Republicans who haven’t signed on as co-authors to House Bill 46, which would ban anti-discrimination protections for transgender people in multiple-occupancy restrooms, showers and changing facilities.
Conservative activists also have begun supporting GOP primary challenges to Cook and other bathroom bill opponents in next year’s elections.
Abbott, whose 20-item special session agenda includes abortion regulations and limits on the authority of cities, raised the stakes recently, saying he plans to get involved in primary races to support conservative candidates — though he stopped short, for now, of saying he would target incumbents.
The activity ensures that the special session’s impact will continue to ripple across the state’s political landscape for months.
On Tuesday, the 22nd day of the 30-day special session, the female business leaders who rallied at the Capitol described transgender bathroom limits as unnecessary and bad for business.
“Like most mothers, I have been fiercely protective of my children, but never, ever have I felt threatened in a bathroom or a locker room, and I am skeptical that the safety and privacy of women and children is the true motive behind these bills,” said Libby Averyt, a United Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce board member.
Diane Crawford, global commercial operations director for Irving-based Celanese Corp., said people “look at the whole state” before decided to move or spend money there.
“Increasing numbers of talented workers do not want to be associated with a place that enacts legalized discrimination against people who are already vulnerable,” she said.
At Tuesday’s tourism industry event, Teel said many of the 700 members of the Texas Travel Industry Association — particularly owners of small businesses — said opposition to transgender bathroom limits should be the top priority in the special session.
“It affects everyone from the small mom-and-pops to the largest of corporations, and it’s something we have to engage in,” he said.
Economist Ray Perryman said his study of the bathroom legislation’s impact found that passage would lead to a $3.3 billion decline in the gross state product and the loss of 36,000 jobs — with much of the damage felt in the travel and tourism industry.
“It is a very big industry, but it’s also a very fragile industry,” Perryman said.