With the Texas Bathroom Bill Dead, Sports Leagues are Rejoicing

With the death of the bathroom bill, basketball fans can be reassured that the Final Four will return to Texas.
With the death of the bathroom bill, basketball fans can be reassured that the Final Four will return to Texas. Jackson Gorman
The so-called Texas bathroom bill, a legislative priority of Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, is dead. It had the support of Governor Greg Abbott, who included the bathroom bill on his special session to-do list, as well as the state's social conservatives, one of the largest voting blocs in Texas.

But the bathroom bill failed in the special session, too, a rare defeat for a group that generally imposes it will on the Texas populace. It failed because of a coalition of liberals, moderate Republicans more focused on the state’s economic agenda, the business community and sports organizations, lead by the NCAA and NFL who threatened to pull events from the state should the bill become law.

The legislation was proposed after multiple localities in the state enacted anti-discrimination laws and regulations that allowed transgender people to use the bathrooms of their choice instead of those corresponding with the gender on their birth certificate. Houston had such legislation, but it was overturned after an ugly election that saw Houston icons like Lance Berkman pushing to overturn the law with advertising focused on protecting women from men dressed as women and going into women's bathrooms. After the success of the Houston vote, coupled with legislation in North Carolina stripping away similar transgender rights, the Texas bathroom bill seemed destined for victory.

But North Carolina soon became a cautionary tale for Texas or any other state mulling bathroom legislation. The NCAA stripped postseason events from the Tar Heel State, saying it stands for equality and the need to guarantee the safety of students, participants and attendees. The NBA moved its All Star Game from Charlotte to New Orleans. Major businesses spoke of relocating from North Carolina, conventions set for the state moved to other locations and entertainers started skipping the state on tour.

Citing a nearly $400 million loss in business due to the law in North Carolina, the generally GOP-oriented Texas Association of Business went to work to prevent to oppose Texas bathroom bill. The association conducted a study and projected a loss of 185,000 jobs for the state with an economic loss that could possibly reach $9 billion. It was joined by the city of San Antonio, which feared the NCAA would strip the 2018 Final Four from the city should the law be enacted, after the NCAA passed legislation that it would not allow for events to be held in what it considered to be discriminatory locales.The NFL also said that it would not award any more Super Bowls to the Texas should the bathroom bill become law.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick accused those opposed to the legislation of fear-mongering, the same criticism opponents of the bill lobbed at Patrick for supporting it. But as he worked to pass the legislation and railed against, some reports said Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Houston Texans owner Bob McNair (despite McNair’s earlier support for the bill that overturned Houston’s protections) were lobbying to defeat the legislation due to the Super Bowl threat. The Dallas Stars were the first professional team in Texas to go on record against the legislation.

“If the law passes, that's a different story," Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told the Dallas Morning News, saying Texas business had yet to be harmed by such legislation, but would if it passed. "We can only use the excuse of having crazy, entertaining state politicians who are merely a sideshow for so long.”

None of this opposition made any difference, however, if not for Speaker of the Texas House Joe Straus. Straus, a moderate Republican generally more focused on fiscal than social policy, spoke out early against the legislation, and did everything in his power to prevent the legislation’s passage.

“I’m not a lawyer, but I am a Texan,” Straus told Lawrence Wright of The New Yorker. “I’m disgusted by all this. Tell the lieutenant governor I don’t want the suicide of a single Texan on my hands.”

So the legislation is dead because a Republican was courageous enough to buck his own party. The Final Four will not be stripped from the state and many many other NCAA events will be able to keep coming to Texas. The NBA will keep bringing the All Star Game to Texas and the NFL will not need to punish the state by withholding the Super Bowl. The state will not lose hundreds of thousands of jobs and there will not be a disastrous economic impact.

Most importantly, discriminatory legislation targeting transgender people has been defeated. Until the Legislature meets again in 2019, that is. Upon which point this whole circus probably starts all over again.
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John Royal is a native Houstonian who graduated from the University of Houston and South Texas College of Law. In his day job he is a complex litigation attorney. In his night job he writes about Houston sports for the Houston Press.
Contact: John Royal