By James Russell, Contributing Writer
You’d think when a major business association traditionally allied with Republicans releases a study suggesting certain proposed laws could negatively impact a state, Republican lawmakers in that state would listen. Especially given lawmakers are working with a tight budget next session.
That happened earlier this week when a study commissioned by the Texas Association of Business revealed the potential economic impact “bathroom” and “religious freedom” bills could have on the state. The report, conducted by researchers at St. Edward’s University in Austin, said that religious freedom bills and “bathroom” bills proposed by right-wing lawmakers in the Texas Legislature could cost the state between $964 million to $8.5 billion and lead to significant job losses — as high as 185,000 jobs.
The report culls data from the impact of similar bills passed in other states, including Arkansas, Indiana and North Carolina.
Indiana Gov. and Vice President-elect Mike Pence signed into law that state’s RFRA last year. The bill would have allowed business owners to deny services based on religious convictions, much to the dismay of activists who said it unfairly discriminated against LGBTQ people. Pence hesitantly amended the bill to include LGBTQ protections after threats from businesses and LGBTQ advocates.
North Carolina’s “bathroom bill” most notably barred transgender people from using the bathroom according to their gender identity. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory lost his re-election bid last month due in part to the fallout from the legislation, and the state has lost millions of dollars in revenue as businesses and events have pulled out of North Carolina.
But to some conservative Texas legislators, the report is just a bunch of bullshit.
“TAB supports a new radical agenda that places the safety and privacy of women and young girls at risk by forcing them to share locker rooms and restrooms with men through government regulation,” wrote Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, in the Texas Tribune.
Rep. Jonathan Stickland, a Bedford Republican, tweeted that the study is “trash and misinfo.”
Sen. Kelly Hancock, who represents parts of northeast Tarrant County, tweeted that the business organization “got the study they paid for and bullied conservative and female members into submission.”
Hancock’s position as chair of the senate’s business and commerce committee, tasked with overseeing business regulations in the state, also puts him in direct conflict with the TAB, the state’s most powerful business lobby.
But Hancock has plenty of allies, including his boss, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the state’s leading cultural warrior who put the bathroom bill among his top 10 legislative priorities, ahead of reforming the state’s child welfare system. The Women’s Privacy Act, as it is called, is not anti-transgender; it’d simply protect women from men who want to assault them in bathrooms and locker rooms, Patrick claims. But critics argue the bill is all about barring transpeople from using the bathroom in accordance with their gender identity.
Shaheen has already filed a House version of the bill. His boss, Speaker Joe Straus, recently said the legislation is not a priority however.
(I’d check if Sen. Konni Burton of Colleyville tweeted about it, but alas, she blocked me.) Just today, two business-backed groups closely aligned with Hancock, Shaheen and Stickland went on the record saying they have no stance on the legislation. (Full disclosure: I write for Quorum Report.)
But it is clear scapegoating transgender and gender nonconforming people is a priority in 2017. After all, bashing them protects the children.