ASAE Cites Discrimination, Business Impact in Testimony Opposing Texas Bill
As a Texas Senate committee considered a proposed “bathroom bill” in a Tuesday hearing, ASAE submitted written testimony opposing SB 6, saying the measure discriminates against members of the LGBT community and is bad for business.
In written testimony submitted to the Texas Senate State Affairs Committee Tuesday, ASAE expressed strong opposition to SB 6, a proposed “bathroom bill” that “we firmly believe is a threat to civil liberties and almost certain to have a deleterious effect on the Texas economy.”
“The Texas legislature has an opportunity to quash SB 6 before it has a chance to adversely impact the state’s economy,” ASAE President and CEO John H. Graham IV, FASAE, CAE, wrote in the testimony. “ASAE has thousands of members, business partners, and volunteer leaders who live and work in Texas. We support laws that are designed to protect Texans from harm, but not at the expense of marginalizing individuals’ rights.”
In early January, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) filed the Texas Privacy Protection Act with the support of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Similar to North Carolina’s HB2, SB 6 would require people to use restrooms or changing areas that correspond to the gender on their birth certificates in buildings operated by public entities, such as government buildings, public schools, and public university facilities. The bill would also revoke existing local antidiscrimination laws in Texas and prohibit local governments from enacting ordinances or policies that would prevent private businesses from creating their own restroom policies.
A revised version of SB 6 was finalized Monday evening after negotiations aiming to improve support for the bill among committee members, according to the Houston Chronicle. The revised bill removes enhanced penalties for crimes committed in restrooms and includes new language stating that “potentially distracting and harmful environments should be barred” from the state’s public schools.
ASAE and the Texas business community have warned that the measure would cost the state dearly. “Not only would this bill harm Texas’s reputation as a welcoming state, it would very likely have severe economic consequences in the form of lost jobs, investments, and event bookings throughout the state,” Graham wrote.
ASAE also signed onto an open letter by Keep Texas Open for Business, a coalition established by the Texas Association of Business (TAB) to oppose the bill. The letter was sent to Gov. Greg Abbott, Patrick, and House Speaker Joe Straus.
“As leaders in the Texas business community, we have an obligation to our employees, customers, shareholders, and the Texas communities we serve to oppose discriminatory legislation that jeopardizes the positive environment for our Texas business operations,” the letter said.
The letter was signed by more than 70 businesses and organizations, including United Airlines, American Airlines, Facebook, and Google. The chambers of commerce in Austin, South Padre Island, and El Paso, among other cities, also signed.
According to an economic impact study by TAB, passage of the legislation could result in the loss of $8.5 billion in GDP and more than 185,000 jobs in the first year.
ASAE, which hosted its annual meeting in Dallas in 2012 and is due to return in 2021, recently adopted an anti-discrimination clause for meeting contracts with hotels and convention venues, which allows ASAE to cancel a meeting if state or local laws or regulations are passed that result in discrimination.
“The reason for this business decision is simple: ASAE cannot afford the reputational risk of being associated with or doing business in jurisdictions that are perceived to be discriminatory,” Graham wrote in the testimony.
Over the past two years, ASAE has opposed the proliferation of similar bills in Georgia, Indiana, and Arkansas, among other states. ASAE’s advocacy efforts in this area are guided by and consistent with the organization’s diversity and inclusion policy, said Jim Clarke, CAE, senior vice president for public policy.
[Editor’s note: On March 8, a Texas Senate committee approved SB6. The bill will now move to the full Senate.]