Visit San Antonio fighting 'bathroom bill' for sake of local economy

Organization claims legislation could affect tourism, locals' wallets

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SAN ANTONIO – After Gov. Greg Abbott listed the "bathroom bill" as one of the 20 special session items, Visit San Antonio went back into battle mode.

The organization fought against the bill during the regular session, claiming the legislation could hurt the San Antonio and state economy. Now, Director of Industry and Government Relations Ashley Harris and her colleagues are fighting again. 

"It has a significant impact on our ability to attract tourism and meetings and conventions," Harris said.

Harris said the proof is in the numbers.

"Visit San Antonio actually commissioned the Perryman Group, one of the most respected economists in the country, to do a study on bathroom bill style legislation. Just in San Antonio and New Braunfels, if this legislation is passed, it would have an immediate $411 million impact and then there’s also year over year impact. That is strictly just on tourism, hospitality, meetings and conventions," Harris explained.

Harris said that doesn't include big events such as concerts or the Final Four. Just two weeks ago, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick told KSAT 12 that deals like such as those would not be affected.

When asked, "You don't think there's a valid concern for San Antonio when it comes to the bathroom bill?"

Patrick replied: "No, none. You have the NCAA coming. They've signed off on the language."

Not all legislators agree. On Wednesday, House Speaker Joe Straus delivered a strong message to hundreds of Texas school board members at a downtown San Antonio conference.

"Telling Texans that our schools are beset by problems in the bathroom is not only inaccurate, but it sends the wrong signal about our priorities," Straus said, emphasizing other education bills.

Most importantly, Harris worries about how the bill could affect San Antonians' wallets.

"There have been studies that show that because of hospitality and tourism, San Antonians pay $1,200 less annually in their taxes because of what we give back to the community in hotel occupancy tax," she said.

When that tax is negatively impacted, locals foot the bill, Harris said.

The special session is set to begin July 18. The first bill lawmakers will tackle is called sunset legislation, which keeps certain state agencies running. Abbott said once that mandatory bill is passed, the other 19 items will be added to the list.

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