In the not-so-distant year of 2016, the North Carolina state legislature hastily convened a special session, passed a first-of-its-kind anti-LGBT “bathroom bill” known as HB2, and suffered some severe economic consequences for that decision, only to end up repealing the law’s most controversial restroom-related provision earlier this year.
Now, history seems poised to repeat itself in Texas.
On Tuesday afternoon, Texas governor Greg Abbott called for the state legislature to reconvene in a special session on July 18. Among the agenda items: a piece of legislation that could become the country’s second “bathroom bill,” with a narrower focus on schools, if legislators respond to pressure from Abbott and lieutenant governor Dan Patrick, who has long advocated for a more comprehensive measure similar to North Carolina’s HB2.
“At a minimum, we need a law that protects the privacy of our children in our public schools,” Abbott said in the press conference announcing the special session.
The law to which Abbott was referring, HB 2899, would bar school districts and municipalities from implementing restroom protections for transgender students. If passed, it would land at a time when federal court victories have been stacking up for transgender students who have been denied restroom rights.
Gavin Grimm, the transgender Virginia high school senior whose case was remanded by the Supreme Court earlier this year after the Trump administration rescinded guidance on transgender students, has previously won at the Fourth Circuit level.
HB 2899 would also come as most other red states flush their own bathroom bills for fear of economic reprisal, as The Daily Beast has previously reported.
The prospect of it becoming law has already sparked widespread backlash from local and national LGBT groups.
“Gov. Abbott has called a special session partly dedicated to discriminating against transgender Texans,” said JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president of policy and political affairs for the Human Rights Campaign, in a statement. “In doing so, he has caved to the demands of the fringe politicians who are using LGBTQ people as pawns to win cheap political points.”
On Twitter, Equality North Carolina called the decision “shameful,” drawing a direct parallel between the forthcoming special session and the 2016 special session in North Carolina that led to the controversial and since partially-walked back HB2.
Meanwhile, anti-LGBT groups on the religious right have already praised the Texas governor for calling the lawmakers back for the summer to move the “bathroom bill” forward.
In a statement, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins said, “The governor is acting in line with the views of most Texans who can agree that women and children should be free from unwanted intrusions into their privacy while using showers, restrooms, locker rooms, and changing rooms.”
With the familiar battle lines drawn, it remains to be seen whether the special session will deliver a “bathroom bill” to Abbott’s desk—and what the consequences of his signature might be.
Republican House Speaker Joe Straus previously said that he was “not a fan” of the more comprehensive North Carolina-style bill that Lt. Gov. Patrick had been pushing but, as the Texas Tribune reported, Straus later supported an amendment to another bill that would have restricted restroom use in public schools.
Still, Straus only offered what the Tribune called a “muted response” to the announcement of the special session, releasing a statement that only referenced “school finance and other challenges facing this state”—not the bathroom bill specifically.
But if Abbott and Patrick get their way, transgender students in Texas will return from summer break to schools that would soon be prohibited by law from protecting their restroom rights. As was the case with North Carolina’s anti-LGBT legislation—and Indiana’s “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” in 2015—economic forces inside and outside of the state will likely shape the ensuing debate.
Leading tech companies—including Amazon, Apple, Cisco, Dell, Facebook, Google, IBM, and Microsoft—have already publicly urged Abbott not to sign “any discriminatory legislation in Texas.”
Shortly before North Carolina replaced HB2 with somewhat less stringent anti-LGBT legislation, the Associated Press estimated that the law would end up costing the state over $3.76 billion in lost business over the next twelve years.
There is no clear picture yet of the scale of economic backlash that a bill like HB 2899 might provoke. The Texas Association of Business estimated that SB6 would have an impact of over $8 billion on the state GDP, although PolitiFact later disputed that figure.
We might not have to wait that long to find out.
Come July, Texas could give the country HB2 all over again.