Nirenberg Testifies Against ‘Bathroom Bill’

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Mayor-elect Ron Nirenberg stands outside of City Hall.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Mayor Ron Nirenberg stands outside of City Hall.

Speaking to the State Affairs committee of the Texas Senate Friday, Mayor Ron Nirenberg gave opposing testimony to legislation known as the “bathroom bill.” The mayor joins a growing chorus of opposition in the business and education sectors concerned that the bill will limit their ability to meet the needs of the communities they serve.

During the special session, Texas Sen. Lois Kolkhorst filed Senate Bills 3 and 91 to replace regular session’s Senate Bill 6, which did not pass. The new bills are now collectively known as the “bathroom bill” and address the various entities that would be required to limit bathroom, changing room, and locker room access “only by persons of the same sex as stated on a person’s birth certificate.”

“San Antonio is a welcoming and inclusive place, where people from many backgrounds and beliefs come together to make it a great place to live and visit. These bills are in direct conflict with the values we hold as a community,” Nirenberg said in his testimony. The Mayor’s Office released Nirenberg’s full testimony while the hearing was still in progress.

A joint statement by Equality Texas, the Human Rights Campaign, American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and the Texas Freedom Network echoed those concerns.

“These anti-transgender bathroom bills are morally bankrupt and will cause billions of dollars of damage to our economy,” Equality Texas CEO Chuck Smith stated.

The economic cost of the legislation was foreshadowed by similar legislation in North Carolina, where some analysts estimated economic losses of over half a billion dollars, according to the Charlotte Observer. According to CNN estimates, $14 million of those losses were in cancelled sporting events alone.

“Just the filing of the bill has already cost San Antonio millions of dollars in lost conventions,” Nirenberg said in his Senate testimony. Casandra Matej, CEO of Visit San Antonio also testified about the economic impact of the legislation.

“Texas should heed the warning signs from North Carolina’s disastrous HB2 and focus on the issues that matter: not an imaginary issue that is designed to win them cheap political points while harming trans Texans,” said Cathryn Oakley, senior legislative counsel for the Human Rights Campaign in the coalition statement.

Critics of the bill say that it manufactures a specter of fear to justify state overreach and win brownie-points for socially conservative campaign donors. In the coalition statement, Texas Freedom Network Deputy Director Ryan Valentine called the problem of predators posing as transgendered women a “non-existent ‘problem'” and chastised the Legislature for wasting taxpayer-funded time.

“All parents are concerned about the safety of their children, but the lieutenant governor is exploiting that parental instinct to attack a vulnerable community, subjecting transgender children and adults to harm when they pose no risk to others,” Equality Texas transgender program director Lou Weaver said in the statement.  “These kind of laws are unenforceable without massive police intrusion on privacy rights, and they create a barrier for trans people navigating society.”

San Antonio Police Chief William McManus submitted a letter to the Texas Senate testifying that sexual assault in public restrooms is not a concern in San Antonio.

Sources inside the Capitol say that over 250 transgender people and their allies showed up to give testimony during the Senate hearing for SB 3 and SB 91.

“Every day that the legislature has considered these bills, transgender Texans and those who love and care for them have flocked to the Capitol to plead for the recognition of their basic humanity,” stated Kali Cohn, a staff attorney for ACLU of Texas.

Nirenberg also released a letter addressed to State Affairs Chair Joan Huffman on the issue. The full text can be read below:

Dear Chair Huffman:

The City of San Antonio stands with other Texas communities in opposition to Senate Bill 3 and Senate Bill 91 by Senator Kolkhorst. San Antonio is a welcoming and inclusive place, where people from many different backgrounds and beliefs come together to make it a great place to live and visit. SB 3 and SB 91 would create the highly negative and harmful perception that San Antonio is not an open and hospitable place.

These bills are in direct conflict with the values we hold as a community. This legislation puts transgendered people in the crosshairs of discrimination in an attempt to protect children and women from a problem that clearly does not exist. The fear-mongering threatens the state’s economy and lives of citizens we all represent because discrimination is as bad for business as it is for the safety of the most vulnerable members of our community.

Like all Texas cities, San Antonio competes for business relocations, conventions, and major sporting events. The passage of a bathroom bill would impair our ability to compete across the nation. In fact, just the filing of the bill has already cost San Antonio millions of dollars in lost conventions.

Over the past few years, we have focused economic development efforts on targeted industries such as advanced manufacturing, information technology, cyber security, and healthcare: industries that will bring good paying jobs to San Antonio. To fill these jobs, we must be able to attract and retain talent. Businesses will expand and move to cities where they can attract the talent pool they need. Giving reason for candidates or companies to think twice about coming here because Texas discriminates against vulnerable groups does not help our economic development efforts.

San Antonio stands united against this legislation. Bexar County superintendents representing 15 school districts have signed a letter voicing opposition to this legislation. The Chambers of Commerce stand together in opposition to this divisive, counterproductive bill. Also, several prominent San Antonio business leaders have stated that legislation like this diverts much needed attention from issues that really matter, like public education financing.

Proponents of the bill have stated that it is geared toward public safety, but San Antonio Police Chief William McManus has noted that SAPD has not received any criminal complaints involving sexual assaults in public restrooms. Sexual assault in public restrooms is not a problem in San Antonio and multiple state laws already criminalize the conduct this bill purports to address. In other words, SB 3 and SB 91 is a fix in search of a problem.

Thank you for considering the City of San Antonio’s opposition to SB 3 and SB 91. To help ensure a more safe and inclusive Texas for all, we hope you will stand with us in our opposition.

Sincerely,

Ron Nirenberg

Mayor

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