First, tourism and tech industries came out against the bathroom bill. Then came the big city police chiefs. Now, heads of some of Houston’s largest companies have publicly stated their opposition to the legislation that Governor Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick have made a priority for the special session. In a letter to Abbott on Monday, senior executives of some of the biggest energy and oil production companies, as well as other Houston business leaders, wrote that they were concerned that the bathroom bill would hurt Texas:
Texas has worked for decades to establish its reputation as a great place to do business. Through smart, pro-growth public policy, the state has succeeded, and our business environment is the envy of states across the country. In addition to our economic success, Texas has become well-known for its excellent quality of life and our welcoming, inclusive spirit – attributes that have helped draw talented individuals to the state from across the nation and around the globe.
As members of Houston’s business community, we write to express our concern with the proposed “bathroom bill” being considered in this special legislative session. We support diversity and inclusion, and we believe that any such bill risks harming Texas’ reputation and impacting the state’s economic growth and ability to create new jobs.
Innovative companies are driven by their people, and winning the talent recruitment battle is key. Any bill that harms our ability to attract top talent to Houston will inhibit our growth and continued success – and ultimately the success of our great state.
We appreciate your leadership in Texas and urge you avoid any actions, including the passage of any “bathroom bill,” that would threaten our continued growth.
The letter was signed by senior executives of Chevron North America, BP America, CenterPoint Energy, ConocoPhillips, The Dow Chemical Co., Exxon Mobil Global Services, Halliburton, and SCF Partners. Other business leaders who signed the letter include John Nau, president of Silver Eagle Distributors and also the treasurer of Abbott’s re-election finance committee; Tom Ryan, chairman of Service Corporation International, the state’s largest funeral home company; David Leebron, president of Rice University; and Paul Hobby, the founding partner of Genesis Park, which owns Texas Monthly.
Social conservatives say the legislation is needed to protect girls and women from men entering bathrooms to invade their privacy or to commit crimes. But though there is no evidence that transgender people violate anyone’s privacy or commit crimes in bathrooms, there’s a growing consensus that the legislation is more about discrimination than privacy. A newspaper in Cedar Park ran an informal survey of its readers and found that 43 percent of respondents said the bill is discriminatory and would hurt the state’s economic interests. Only 22 percent responded that it would “protect children from pedophiles.”
Despite all the sound and fury of the past couple of weeks, the special legislative session actually began on Monday. Sure, Lieutenant Governor Patrick could brag on the fast pace of the Senate taking up Abbott’s twenty agenda items for the special session, the midnight meetings and the weekend hearings. But there never was any doubt that Patrick and the Senate Republicans could run over the chamber’s Democrats like a big rig freight hauler flattening a rare toad on Texas Highway 21. Out numbered and with the Senate rules working against them, the only minor victory for Senate Democrats was that it took a whole week and a half for Patrick to ram the bills through.
However, by and large, this just brought us to the end of the regular legislative session. Things that didn’t pass for one reason or another are back on the House agenda. Monday afternoon, the House approved legislation on extending the task force studying maternal mortality in Texas, a bill that fell victim to the hostage situation waged by the Senate.
House Speaker Joe Straus has made it pretty clear that he does not want the transgender bathroom bill to come up for debate in his chamber. But lest you think the House will be the Chamber of No, the Ways and Means Committee on Friday passed out a property tax rollback bill by Chairman Dennis Bonnen that received praise from Abbott. The bill lowers the automatic rollback rate from 8 percent to 6 percent when local governments other than school districts raise taxes. The bill also gave limited exemptions to community college districts and areas with disaster declarations, while exempting any government with less than $25 million in tax revenue. Abbott’s support for the Bonnen measure is a blow to Patrick and Senator Paul Bettencourt of Houston who wanted the rollback rate set at four percent.
The big question is just how much of his agenda does Abbott have to achieve to call the session a success and go home. Earlier this year, Patrick said he would force one special session after another if a bathroom bill was not passed. And on Monday in Dallas, the governor dodged reporter questions on whether another special session might be needed after this one. Speaking at the Sheriffs’ Association of Texas Training Conference and Expo in Grapevine, Abbott defended the bathroom legislation and assured law officers they would not be involved in enforcing it. “So what I urge is for everyone to step back, calmly look at what the bill actually says, before they cast some misguided judgment,” Abbott said.