THERE WAS a sigh of relief when Texas lawmakers adjourned in May without adopting harmful legislation that would have restricted bathroom use for transgender residents. The relief, though, was short-lived. A mean-spirited effort, enabled by Gov. Greg Abbott (R), is now underway to ram the measure through a special legislative session. If it succeeds, not only will transgender people who live in Texas be hurt but so will the state’s standing and economy.
The legislation would restrict bathroom use in government buildings and public schools based on the sex listed on a person’s birth certificate. The proposals — Senate Bill 3 and Senate Bill 91 — would also overturn local nondiscrimination ordinances aimed at allowing transgender people to use public bathrooms of their choice. The legislation won swift approval Friday from a Senate committee and the full Senate is likely to follow suit, given that its presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), has championed the issue and engineered the special session by holding hostage bills needed to keep some state agencies operating.
In the House, the principled and reasoned opposition of Speaker Joe Straus (R) helped scuttle the measure during the regular session but how successful he will be in the coming days is unclear. He told Lawrence Wright in the New Yorker that he thinks most Republicans in the House don’t want to vote for the bathroom bill but there is the fear of primary challenges from the right, which has made the bathroom bill a rallying cry.
Such political calculation seems to explain Mr. Abbott’s embrace of the legislation after months of being coy. But Texas’s business community, including chief executives of companies with a major presence in the state, have lined up against the legislation, citing concerns about the ability to recruit talent and investment. A similar law in North Carolina resulted in boycotts and relocation of major sporting and entertainment events, costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars. Even consideration of the Texas bathroom bill has already led to about $66 million in lost convention business , according to testimony Friday at a public hearing that preceded the committee vote by convention officials from the state’s big cities.
North Carolina eventually backed down and partially repealed its discriminatory law. Do Texas legislators really want to create a similar backlash? Will they do what’s right and smart or will they have to learn the hard way?