Metro Weekly

Texas business group will continue to oppose bathroom bill legislation

Republicans who supported bathroom bill and sanctuary cities bill took hits in pro-business group's lawmaker ratings

Texas State Capitol in Austin, Texas – Photo: Daniel Mayer, via Wikimedia.

A powerful Texas business lobby has declared that it will fight against any “bathroom bill” introduced in the state.

The Texas Association of Business will increase its lobbying efforts to defeat any proposed legislation that could be deemed as anti-business from being passed by the Republican-dominated legislature in 2019.

“From time to time, we’re going to publicly agree with our legislative leaders and at times we’re going to disagree,” Jeff Moseley, TAB’s CEO, told the Houston Chronicle. “The business community in Texas is very motivated right now to be involved in the political process.”

Earlier this year, the pro-business organization spent much of its time trying to defeat a bill that would have restricted transgender people to using only those public facilities that match their biological sex at birth.

After Gov. Greg Abbott called a special summer session with the intention of passing a “bathroom bill,” the business community returned to the State Capitol in Austin to protest the bill, including one demonstration where businesswomen objected to having women’s safety be used as a justification for passing the anti-transgender measure.

A more stringent version of the bill passed the Senate, but failed to gain traction in the House, in part due to staunch opposition from House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio).

Straus had backed legislation that would apply the restroom restrictions only to public schools, but negotiations between the House caucus, led by Straus, and the Senate caucus, led by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, came to a standstill and could not be resolved by the end of the summer session.

TAB made its stance known just as it released its ranking of lawmakers for the 2017 session, with many Republican members taking a hit in their rankings because of their support for legislation like the “bathroom bill” or a anti-immigration bill targeting sanctuary cities — measures the business community deemed hostile to business interests.

Only one lawmaker, State Rep. Oscar Longoria (D-Mission), received a perfect 100 percent rating on TAB’s report card.

TAB hopes that lawmakers will take their warnings seriously and heed them by refusing to pass controversial bills that might damage the state’s business-friendly reputation.

Last month, Straus –who has been attacked by many activists from the right wing of his party for not supporting the “bathroom bill” — shocked many by announcing he would not run for re-election in 2018.

Unfortunately, that means that the new House Speaker may be more amenable to passing an anti-transgender measure, regardless of opposition from the business community.

In perhaps what amounts to a protection against that, Straus also announced at a recent meeting of the Austin Chamber of Commerce that he was putting together a committee focused on facilitating Texas in attracting new businesses or companies to relocate to or open up subsidiaries in the Lone Star State.

The committee, the House Select Committee on Economic Competitiveness, is intended to look at factors that companies consider when choosing to expand operations in a state. The committee is expected to compile a report and share their findings by Dec. 12.

The committee, which held its first meeting on Nov. 15, is chaired by Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana), who chaired the House Committee that bottled up various versions of a bathroom bill.

The other members of the committee include three Democrats and three Republicans from the suburbs of Dallas, Fort Worth, and Houston — meaning they are probably less likely to be influenced by culturally conservative “hot button” issues than their peers from more rural areas.

At the Nov. 15 hearing, members heard testimony from business leaders, including Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, real estate developer Ross Perot, Jr., and Dallas Stars President and CEO Jim Lites on how different policies might affect a business’s decision to relocate or expand operations in Texas. 

Cuban told the panel that when states take divisive stances on issues such as LGBTQ rights, it may discourage companies — concerned only about attracting and retaining top-level talent, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity — from relocating, reports the Texas Tribune.

Jeff Cheney, the mayor of Frisco, Texas, also warned against another provision contained in the Senate version of the bathroom bill, which would strip away local control from localities that wish to pass their own nondiscrimination ordinances.

Cheney said that he learned how important local control — and independence from the state legislature — was when various North Texas cities were bidding to house retail giant Amazon’s secondary headquarters.

“I got to learn about every city in our region and just how different and unique they are,” Cheney told the panel. “So one-size-fits-all approaches to legislation doesn’t work for cities because we are all different, we all have different goals.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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