Hundreds sign up to speak on 'Bathroom Bill'

SA city officials among people who testified regarding Senate Bill 6

AUSTIN, Texas – Hundreds of people from across Texas traveled to the state Capitol Tuesday to weigh in on the first public hearing of the so-called "Bathroom Bill."

More than 400 people who signed up to speak on Senate Bill 6 waited in overflow rooms and halls to have their say about the controversial measure.

Stephania Kanitsch, a transgender woman, said she wants members of the Senate Committee on State Affairs to know that she wants to use a bathroom that corresponds to her identity, and not the sex identified on her birth certificate.

The bill requires transgender people to use public bathrooms that correspond with the sex on their birth certificates.

"The chances of me getting beat up in the men's room are pretty great, or I could get killed," Kanitsch said.

Supporters of the bill said that the bill is about privacy and protecting women and children.

"I have four children and I have eight grandchildren, and I would not want a man in the bathroom with one of my grandchildren. That would be horrifying to me," said Susan Jackley, a pastor.

Some people who made the trip wondered if they will have a chance to speak up.

"We are signed up. It's just a long list, and I'm not sure that we can be here until tomorrow," Cheryl Stalinsky, a bill supporter, said.

Among those who testified were members of a San Antonio delegation led by District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran and Convention, Michael Sawaya, convention, sports and entertainment facilities director and Casandra Matej, president and CEO of Visit San Antonio.

Viagran said the bill would send the wrong message to visitors.

"This bill, SB 6, with whatever carve-outs or amendments, will still be perceived as discriminatory to millions of people across this country and across this state," she said.

The Councilwoman also delivered written testimony from San Antonio Police Chief William McManus who wrote there have been "no incidents reported in San Antonio with respect to this issue. SAPD has not received any criminal complaints involving sexual assaults in public restrooms."

Sawaya said the bill would jeopardize the city's ability to compete for conventions or big sporting events.

"I can tell you that tourism in San Antonio is big business. Certainly for Texas. We employ over 80,000 people in San Antonio. It's a $13-plus billion economy for San Antonio, and anything that jeopardizes that or risks it, we would be against," he said.

The city is expecting a $135 million economic impact from the men's college basketball Final Four in 2018. Sawaya said the bill, if it becomes law, could jeopardize those plans.

But North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest testified that even though the NCAA moved some early-round men's basketball tournament games to another state in protest of a similar law enacted last year, the negative economic impact was minimal.

Sawaya said most things are bigger in Texas, and that would include the negative economic impact of losing conventions and events, like the Final Four.

Matej said the filing of the bill resulted in three groups that had been considering San Antonio for conventions to look elsewhere. The events would have meant nearly $3.1 million in economic impact.

"We do not need to speculate about potential economic losses," Matej said.

She also told committee members that 11 organizations have told Visit San Antonio that they are reconsidering or would remove their events if the legislation passes, which would result in a $30 million loss in economic revenue.

"While we all travel, we rarely think about the impact behind that travel," Matej said. "But it's my job to think about it. It is my job to think about the 130,000 individuals who are employed by tourism and hospitality. And it's my job to think about the $13.6 billion economic impact our industry brings to our community."

While the bill is expected to easily pass in the committee, it faces a tough road ahead because Republican House Speaker Joe Straus has slammed the measure as bad for business.

NFL officials have also warned that the Super Bowl won't return to Dallas or Houston if the bill becomes law.

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