Major Texas businesses fear bathroom bill could harm economy

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AUSTIN, Texas - Major companies converged on the Texas Capitol Monday to tell lawmakers to lay off renewed efforts to pass legislation that would limit where transgender people can use the restroom.

Companies like IBM, Texas Instruments and Southwest Airlines worry the proposed bills could harm economic growth efforts known as the Texas Miracle.

"I think we constantly ask ourselves where we should invest for growth, and it is totally dependent on where the best talent wants to live and work," said Phil Gilbert, General Manager of Design for IBM. "All discriminatory legislation - things like these so-called bathroom bills - hurt our ability to recruit and retain the best people. It's as simple as that."

IBM opened its first Texas offices in 1966. Today, the company has more than 10,000 workers in the state. IBM executives were part of a rally with other big Texas businesses Monday at the Capitol pushing back against legislation they say is discriminatory.

MORE | Texas House Bathroom Bills

"Discrimination goes a lot of different ways," said Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Denton. "I can't discriminate against the 99.7 percent of people who are not transgender that don't want their children showering with someone of the opposite sex."

Simmons filed two bills for the Special Session related to bathroom and locker room regulations for people who are transgender. He said it is more appropriate to make accommodations for the transgender community than unilateral policy that may make other Texans uncomfortable.

He said the vast majority of his constituents support his approach.

"They do not want school-aged children, especially, being forced to shower and change or use the restroom with people of a different biological sex, no matter how they identify at that particular time," said Simmons. 

Further, Simmons said the companies that are against his bills should take the first step in creating a workable solution for multi-stall restrooms. He said those companies do not have gender-neutral facilities.

"While this bill doesn't affect private businesses, it seems to me a little bit hypocritical that they haven't changed their own culture," he said. "When they change their own culture, then they can come back and report how it's gone and have time to do an analysis. Then, maybe we should have the conversation about changing those things that the government oversees."

In addition to helping organize Monday's rally, IBM placed full-page ads in major Texas newspapers calling the bill discriminatory. More than a dozen Dallas-based businesses sent a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday warning him that bathroom bills could threaten their ability to grow their companies.

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