Texas business leaders
(Pictured) TAB president Chris Wallace spoke from the state capital's steps.
are speaking out against a "bathroom bill" that could be brought before the Legislature this session, which begins Jan. 10. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is pushing the bill, which would require transgender people to use the restroom that corresponds with the gender on their birth certificates, saying it is a top priority for him. The state's governing body, which meets only in odd-numbered years for 140 calendar days, might also consider a proposal to expand a religious-freedom bill to cover religious objectors to same-sex marriage.
Phillip Jones, president and CEO of VisitDallas, said he is ready to fight the measures for as long as it takes. "This proposed bill is not only a social issue, it's an economic issue," said Jones. "Planners should write, call and email lawmakers to tell them your companies don't support this legislation and that it would impact your ability to bring meetings to Texas. And if and when we need to make a public stand, be there and show your support."
The bathroom law would be similar to HB2, passed in North Carolina in March, which caused many groups to take the state off their lists for meetings and events, including the NBA, which moved the 2017 all-star game from Charlotte to New Orleans. At press time, that bill reportedly was set to be rescinded.
The Texas Association of Business, which advocates for a pro-business climate in the state, also has been outspoken on the proposed legislation. The organization sponsored two studies from St. Edward's University in Austin, examining the attitudes of business owners in the state and lessons learned from other states that have enacted discriminatory laws. The studies demonstrate that the legislation could result in significant economic losses in Texas' gross domestic product, with estimates ranging from $964 million to $8.5 billion, not to mention significant job losses and other detriments.
At a press conference on the state capitol's steps in December, TAB president Chris Wallace spoke of finding common-sense steps to protect the Texas economy from enormous harm. "We cannot slam the door on the Texas miracle of openness, competitiveness, economic opportunity and innovation," he said.
Many in the meetings industry are getting involved in the fight. "We don't want to be another North Carolina," said Jeff Rasco, CEO of Wimberley, Texas-based Attendee Management Inc. and a longtime member of Meeting Professionals International. "There's a very good chance this could pass, and we will be sanctioned by businesses and events that were thinking of coming to Texas. We are hoping our Global Meetings Industry Day program on April 6 will get some attention for what the meetings industry means to the state, as the Legislature will still be in session then."