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Ken Paxton pitches Texas business community on "bathroom bill"

Attorney General Ken Paxton on Tuesday pitched the "bathroom bill" to the Texas business community, which has vocally opposed the effort to regulate bathroom use.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton during a press conference to recognize January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month on January 12, 2017.

*Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

Making his case for the "bathroom bill" to Texas business leaders, Attorney General Ken Paxton said Tuesday that Senate Bill 6 would have a narrow focus, and he urged them to listen to parents "just concerned about the safety of their children."

Paxton spoke about SB 6 during a conference held by the Texas Association of Business. The bill, a priority of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, would require transgender people to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings and public universities based on "biological sex."

The Texas Association of Business has been fighting the bathroom bill push for weeks, releasing a study last month that said such legislation could cost the state up to $8.5 billion and over 100,000 jobs. Patrick and his allies have criticized the study, saying it is based on bad data and may be politically motivated. 

Paxton, who has been battling the federal government in court over transgender student guidelines it issued last year, struck a conciliatory tone Tuesday as he spoke at the association's meeting. He acknowledged that the group has been involved in the debate before stressing that the bill "doesn't apply to businesses, from what I can tell." 

SB 6 would pre-empt local ordinances — as applied to bathrooms — that protect transgender individuals from discrimination in public accommodations. Those ordinances effectively require businesses, such as restaurants and retail stores, to allow transgender people to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.

Paxton also said the legislation "doesn't apply to entities that are leasing government facilities," apparently referring to a part of the bill that would, for example, exempt a sports league that rents a publicly owned venue. It is a key component of the legislation in light of concerns the measure could cause the state to lose out on major athletic events such as the Final Four, which is set to be held in 2018 in San Antonio. 

Paxton made an emotional appeal to the crowd as well, pointing to conversations he has had with parents in the Fort Worth Independent School District. The district became an early battleground in Texas' bathroom wars last year when it issued guidelines for transgender students, leading Patrick to call for the resignation of the superintendent Kent Scribner. 

"Really what I learned from them was they were just concerned about the safety of their children," Paxton said. "And so as you guys deal with that issue, I’m not in the legislative process anymore, but I encourage you to at least take into account what these parents are saying because they come from all parties ... They’re independents, they come from different cultural backgrounds and yet they’re concerned about the same issue." 

The conference heard later in the day from Joseph Kopser, an Austin businessman who asked the crowd to help Patrick and his allies "find a way out of " the controversy spawned by Senate Bill 6.

"Let’s get out of the headlines as a state talking about who’s going to enforce the checking of gender in bathrooms," Kopser said, "and let’s talk about this Texas economic miracle and keep it going."

Read more of our related coverage:

  • The so-called bathroom bill has drawn national attention to the Texas Legislature. But what would the proposed bill actually do? We've annotated the text to explain in plain English how the bill would impact communities across Texas.
  • State Rep. Matt Schaefer proposed a rule requiring people in the Capitol to use bathrooms corresponding to their biological sex during a House floor debate in the first week of the 2017 legislative session.

Disclosure: The Texas Association of Business and Joseph Kopser have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here. 

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Politics State government 85th Legislative Session Bathroom bill Dan Patrick Ken Paxton Texas Legislature