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McNeely: Impact of Texas' discriminatory laws begins to be felt

June 28, 2017 at 10:37 p.m.


If those in charge at the Texas Capitol really think cutting back rights for transgender and gay people will have no economic impact, they're about to find out.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra last week said he had added Texas "to the list of states where California-funded or sponsored travel will be restricted on account of the discriminatory nature of laws enacted by those states."

A law that took effect Jan. 1 in California restricts state-funded travel to places with laws that "authorize discrimination" against people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. That means Becerra has to keep a list of those laws and the places where state travel is banned.

He cited a bill the Texas Legislature passed this spring, and which Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recently signed, to allow faith-based adoption and foster care agencies to turn down potential parents whose lifestyles don't meet "sincerely held religious beliefs" of the groups.

That includes sexual orientation. California officials said that is discriminatory.

"While the California (Department of Justice) works to protect the rights of all our people, discriminatory laws in any part of our country send all of us several steps back," Becerra said, flanked by representatives of ACLU Northern California and Equality California at a press conference.

"That's why when California said we would not tolerate discrimination against LGBTQ members of our community, we meant it," he said.

The seven other banned states are Alabama, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Dakota and Tennessee.

Abbott's inclusion of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's pet "bathroom bill," to mandate public bathrooms transgender people can use, in a July 18 special legislative session further underlined charges of discrimination.

Texas business and civil rights groups have warned for months that passing a bill requiring transgender people to use the bathroom of their sex at birth rather than the sex with which they identify is discriminatory.

Based on what happened after North Carolina passed a similar bathroom bill in 2015, Texas could lose billions of dollars and thousands of jobs for discriminatory laws, said groups including the Texas Association of Business, convention managers, tourism officials and professional sports organizations.

The 7,000-member Professional Convention Management Association has already canceled a convention in Houston because of its moves to pass anti-transgender laws.

House Speaker Joe Straus, who opposes the bathroom bill as a solution in search of a non-existent problem, has mentioned the possible loss of college basketball's Final Four tournament, which is for February in San Antonio.

The action by California, a state top Republican Texas officials have repeatedly derided, drew still more heat.

"California might be able to stop their state employees but they can't stop all the businesses that are fleeing over taxation and regulation, and relocating to Texas," said Abbott press secretary John Wittman.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's communications director Marc Rylander joined in, too.

"It's funny how the very state that is so adamantly against keeping terrorists out of our country — they oppose the president's travel ban — now wants to keep Californians out of Texas," Rylander said. "I guess that's California logic."

Paxton himself said: "I talk to people almost every day who made the trek from California to Texas and without fail, they tell me their move is due to either greater job opportunities, much lower-priced housing, an escape from a left-coast political climate, or just a better quality of culture and life."

Patrick used California's action to raise money.

"Our refusal to kowtow to those who demand political correctness has upset the radical left," he wrote in an email solicitation of funds. "If California thinks playing politics will help them climb out of bankruptcy, they are wrong. ... I hope you will consider contributing to our cause."

Because California's travel ban covers universities, some think San Jose State University might not be able to play the University of Texas Longhorns in Austin in a game scheduled for Sept. 9.

Others said games contracted before Jan. 1 would not be affected, however.

Also, law enforcement, tax auditors and collectors and those who need to appear before a federal committee are exempt from the ban. Neither does the law affect the travel of private citizens.

Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, which battles the religious right, predicted big problems.

"What should be increasingly clear even to the governor and lieutenant governor is that their obsession with writing discrimination into law risks turning Texas into a state that people and companies simply don't want to visit or do business in.

"We're watching a slow-motion economic train wreck here," she warned, "and the special session could turn that into a full-on disaster."

— Dave McNeely is an Austin columnist who covers Texas politics. His column appears Thursday.

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