Local Leaders: ‘Idiotic’ Bathroom Bills Would Have ‘Seismic Impact’ on State, Local Economies

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A river barge passes by the construction site working around the mural by artist Carlos Mérida.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

A river barge passes by the newly developed Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.

The passage of two so-called “bathroom bills” currently working their way through the Texas House and Senate could mean an initial $411.8 million loss for the San Antonio region’s gross product each year, cost 4,650 jobs, and $11.3 million in local tax revenues, according to a report released Monday afternoon.

The report estimates that initial annual statewide impacts could total $3.3 billion in gross product loss, 35,600 jobs, and $176.4 million in revenue.

Longer-term effects of reduced travel and tourism to the city and state could total $689.2 million and $5.5 billion in gross product, respectively.

“This discriminatory legislation … will have a seismic impact on the economy,” Visit San Antonio President and CEO Casandra Matej said of the proposed state laws that would require individuals to use bathrooms that correspond to the “biological sex” noted on their birth certificates.

The local nonprofit tourism organization partnered with the San Antonio Area Tourism Council to commission the study performed by The Perryman Group.

The Waco-based economic and financial analyst firm looked at domestic conference and vacation cancellations in the San Antonio-New Braunfels Metropolitan Statistical Area, said founder Ray Perryman. These modest estimates don’t even begin to include the city’s international hosting opportunities and other major sporting and musical entertainment events.

Travel and tourism is the third-largest industry in San Antonio, employing 145,500 people, generating $13.3 billion in annual gross product, and $127.2 million in tax receipts annually in the area, according to the report.

North Carolina, the first and only state to enact laws that would prevent transgender individuals from using bathrooms that match their gender expression, passed similar legislation last year that has acted as a case study. The state will miss out on $3.76 billion over the next 12 years, according to an Associated Press analysis, including at least $250 million from NCAA events over the next six years.

The local report takes into consideration the counter-flow of conventions and organizations that would prefer to host their event in a city or state that has a “bathroom bill,” Perryman said during a conference call with media Monday morning, which are nominal. “There is a perception that group is much larger than it is. Ninety-plus percent feel the other way [do not support such legislation] … it’s overwhelming.”

There are at least 11 groups that have or are considering backing out of events located in San Antonio already, said Matej, who estimates the impact of those cancellations alone would be around $40 million.

“In other words, what we have been saying all along is absolutely undeniable,” she said Monday during the event announcing the report in the lobby of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. “These numbers tell us there will be a significant and longstanding adverse impact on San Antonio and the state. We urge our legislators to consider these effects in making their decisions.”

Several organizations and legislators have signaled opposition to Senate Bill 6, which cleared the Senate and would require individuals to use bathrooms that correspond to the gender noted on their birth certificates. Proponents of the bill, labeled the “Texas Privacy Act,” say it would increase protections from predatory use of public bathrooms. However, instances of harm that would occur in bathrooms are mostly covered by existing laws against criminal assault.

After conversations with San Antonio Police Chief William McManus, Matej said they concluded San Antonio has not seen any instances that would be covered by SB 6.

“It’s a solution in search of a problem,” said Steve Atkins, chairman of the Tourism Council and founder of the Atkins Group. “When a state or community begins to try to define how people will or will not utilize bathroom facilities, then it flies in the face of being a totally welcoming and gracious place for all people.”

(From left) Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Ramiro Cavazos, San Antonio Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Richard Perez, Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3), and San Antonio Tourism Council Chair Steve Atkins listen as Visit San Antonio President and CEO Cassandra Matej announces the impacts "bathroom bills" would have on local and state economies.

Iris Dimmick / Rivard Report

(From left) Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Ramiro Cavazos, San Antonio Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Richard Perez, Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3), and San Antonio Tourism Council Chair Steve Atkins listen as Visit San Antonio President and CEO Casandra Matej announces the impacts “bathroom bills” would have on local and state economies.

A different bill that will be considered by the House State Affairs committee on Wednesday would go beyond regulating bathrooms specifically to nullify city ordinances that protect classes of citizens that aren’t recognized by the state, such as race, color, disability, religion, sex, national origin, and age. The legislation closely mirrors a revision of North Carolina’s bathroom bill. San Antonio’s non-discrimination ordinance, as of 2013, includes gender identity, sexual orientation, and veteran status. The House has set SB 6 aside to consider this bill.

Nearly all chambers of commerce, including the LGBT Chamber, have stated their opposition to such laws.

“SB 6 is an idiotic piece of legislation,” said Hispanic Chamber President and CEO Ramiro Cavazos, adding that the laws would be unenforceable and create more problems for cities. “Now is not a time to be apathetic.”

San Antonio, South San Antonio and North San Antonio chamber representatives were also present during the press event on Monday.

City Council will be presenting a “united front” against both bills, said Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3). “Now we have the data and numbers that back up what we’ve been saying.”

Even without the economic impact, Viagran said she would oppose the legislation.

“No matter what, this bill – whatever carve outs or amendments they put to it – it’s still not an inclusive bill,” said Viagran, who chairs the Council’s Public Safety Committee. “It’s still discriminatory.”

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