Texas business leaders call on lawmakers to drop 'bathroom bill'

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - A group of Texas business leaders urged state lawmakers on Monday to abandon plans to pass a bill to restrict bathroom access for transgender people, calling such a measure bad for the economy.

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The Republican-dominated legislature begins a 30-day special session on Tuesday with 20 items on the agenda, including one of the “bathroom bills” that have been a flashpoint in U.S. culture wars.

Supporter of the legislation have said it is a common-sense measure that protects public safety. Critics call it discriminatory.

Texas, the most powerful Republican-controlled state, could lose about $5.6 billion through 2026 and businesses could find it difficult to recruit top talent if such a measure is enacted, according to the state’s leading employer organization.

“The distraction of a bathroom bill pulls us away from being competitive as a state,” Jeff Moseley, chief executive of the Texas Association of Business, told a rally outside the Capitol.

“On this discussion, conservatives can disagree with conservatives,” said Moseley, whose group has typically aligned itself with the state’s Republican leaders.

The legislation restricts access to places like bathrooms and locker rooms based on the gender listed on people’s birth certificates and not the gender with which they identify.

A similar law in North Carolina, partially repealed in March, prompted the relocation of sporting events and economic boycotts that was estimated to have cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

The stakes are higher in Texas, which has an economy larger than Russia’s.

A bill similar to North Carolina’s passed the Texas Senate in the regular session and was killed by pro-business Republican leaders in the House, who ran out the clock on the measure.

The bathroom bill’s main backer, Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, a social conservative who sets the state Senate’s legislative agenda, has said economic losses would be inconsequential.

“(The Texas Republican majority) want to maintain separate restrooms, locker rooms and shower facilities for men and women and boys and girls, and they don’t care if the media thinks it is politically incorrect,” his political campaign said in a statement on Monday.

Republican House of Representatives Speaker Joe Straus and companies including IBM, American Airlines, Apple and Southwest Airlines have spoken out against the bill.

“On the bathroom bill, there is no real compromise because even the most mild bill is going to be interpreted as discriminatory,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.

Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Peter Cooney