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Conflicting economic reports spotlight North Carolina restroom law

Supporters say misleading numbers in a recent AP analysis don’t reflect the state’s thriving business sector

The sign outside PayPal's headquarters in San Jose, Calif. Associated Press/Photo by Jeff Chiu, File

Conflicting economic reports spotlight North Carolina restroom law

North Carolina’s controversial restroom law could cost the state $3.76 billion in lost business over the next 12 years, according to an analysis by the Associated Press.

That figure is based on businesses that already announced departures from North Carolina, including PayPal, Adidas, and CoStar, as well as canceled sporting events, conventions, and concerts.

But the law’s supporters maintain the state economy continues to thrive and insist the lost business is a drop in the bucket of the state’s overall GDP. Proponents hope other states, such as Texas, won’t balk at adopting similar restroom policies based on media hype.

North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature called a special session last year to pass the restroom law known as HB2 after the City of Charlotte passed an ordinance forcing businesses to open public restrooms, changing facilities, and showers based on gender identity, not biology. HB2 mandated persons in government buildings use the facility corresponding with the sex on their birth certificates and barred local officials from creating conflicting ordinances.

The governors of New York and Washington soon banned all non-essential travel to North Carolina, popular musicians such as Bruce Springsteen refused to perform in the state, and the NBA and NCAA moved sporting events elsewhere. Just last week the NCAA doubled down, telling North Carolina legislators they have until April 18 to change HB2 or lose hosting privileges for championship contests until 2022.

Despite such warnings, Texas conservatives have introduced a similar piece of legislation governing public facilities in their state.

Earlier this month, North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, a Republican, addressed Texas lawmakers ahead of the Texas Privacy Act’s first public hearing.

Forest noted Forbes ranked North Carolina as the second best state in the country to do business in 2016 and said the few much-hyped business departures haven’t made much of an impact on North Carolina’s $500 billion annual GDP.

“The effect is minimal to the state,” Forest told Texas legislators. “Our economy is doing well. Don’t be fooled by the media.”

Opponents of HB2 like to point to PayPal canceling its expansion in North Carolina, costing the state 400 jobs, but North Carolina creates 400 new jobs each week, Forest said.

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, also a Republican and the strongest advocate for the Texas Privacy Act, told me leading up to the bill’s first hearing he had no reason to fear an economic backlash. He expects Texas legislators eventually will agree with him.

All 20 of the state’s Republican senators and one Democrat voted to advance the bill on March 14. But doubt still surrounds the Texas Privacy Act as it awaits a verdict from House lawmakers.

In an interview with the Texas Politics Project, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, a Republican, said he opposes the restroom bill and warned passing it could be a “tremendous mistake.” He said no one in his San Antonio district has spoken positively about the bill. He’s also worried about losing the NCAA 2018 Men’s Final Four.

“My community is going to be the one, one year from now, that has the Final Four,” Straus said. “And we’re pretty sensitive about sending the wrong signals to those we want to attract.”

But Straus said he will not block the bill from coming to the House floor for a final vote.

The Family Research Council (FRC), one the strongest supporters of Patrick and the restroom proposal, launched a Facebook ad in Straus’ district to pressure him to change his mind and rally Texas legislators to pass the bill.

FRC president Tony Perkins suggested in a statement last week that states have a financial incentive to pass restroom protections.

“Tourism is thriving and the economy is expanding—which is exactly the opposite of what liberals predicted,” Perkins wrote. “If liberals were hoping to make a case study out of North Carolina and the effects of privacy bills, they'll have a tough time doing so now. As many as 13 states are considering measures like HB2—and based on these numbers, it might be the best decision they ever make!”

Evan Wilt Evan is a World Journalism Institute graduate and a former WORLD reporter.


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