Super Bowl glare fixes attention on Texas 'bathroom bill'

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AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - As Houston readies to host the Super Bowl, a push by lawmakers in Texas to restrict bathroom access for transgender people is raising fears the state may be unable to score future major sporting events and could lose championships on its books.

The proposed measure is similar to one enacted last year in North Carolina that prompted the National Basketball Association to pull its showcase 2017 All Star game from Charlotte, while the National Collegiate Athletic Association moved seven championship events amid economic boycotts estimated to have cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

SEE ALSO: Texas lawmaker moves to criminalize abortion so women will be more 'personally responsible'

The financial hit in Texas, whose economy is bigger than Russia's and boasts one of the nation's largest travel and tourism industries, is forecast to be much bigger.

Influential business officials and activists say the legislation could also hurt the state's ability to attract investment and is at odds with the progressive tradition of its biggest cities.

The cost of the so-called "bathroom bill," which bars transgender people from using restrooms that match their gender identity, could run as high as $8.5 billion and result in a loss of 185,000 jobs in the first year alone, according to the Texas Association of Business, a conservative group that is the state's leading employer organization.

"It would be a blot on the reputation of the state of Texas, which many of us have been working to change," said Annise Parker, who as Houston's mayor from 2010 to 2016 was the first openly lesbian candidate elected to lead a major U.S. city.

Related: Inside North Carolina's similar debate:

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Protests against North Carolina transgender bathroom law
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Protests against North Carolina transgender bathroom law
ASHEVILLE, NC - JUNE 21: A display inside Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, North Carolina features books by authors who support the repeal of HB2 on June 21, 2016. Malaprop's has had authors cancel and a decline in sales due to North Carolina's HB2 legislation, commonly known as the bathroom bill, and the resulting boycott of the state by authors, athletes and tourists. (Photo by Jacob Biba for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
ASHEVILLE, NC - JUNE 21: A sign next to the men's bathroom inside Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, North Carolina denounces North Carolina's HB2 legislation on June 21, 2016. Malaprop's has had authors cancel and a decline in sales due to North Carolina's HB2 legislation, commonly known as the bathroom bill, and the resulting boycott of the state by authors, athletes and tourists. (Photo by Jacob Biba for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
ASHEVILLE, NC - JUNE 21: A bulletin board inside Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, North Carolina features upcoming author visits and events scheduled for the bookstore on June 21, 2016. Malaprop's has had authors cancel and a decline in sales due to North Carolina's HB2 legislation, commonly known as the bathroom bill, and the resulting boycott of the state by authors, athletes and tourists. (Photo by Jacob Biba for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 16 - Protestors gather across the street from the North Carolina state legislative building as they voice their concerns over House Bill 2, in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, May 16, 2016. House Bill 2, also known as the Bathroom Bill, which requires transgender people to use the public restroom matching the sex on their birth certificate, has received the attention of national media and the White House. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - MAY 16 - Protestors gather across the street from the North Carolina state legislative building as they voice their concerns over House Bill 2, in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, May 16, 2016. House Bill 2, also known as the Bathroom Bill, which requires transgender people to use the public restroom matching the sex on their birth certificate, has received the attention of national media and the White House. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
DURHAM, NC - MAY 10: The 'We Are Not This' slogan is posted at the entrances to Bull McCabes Irish Pub on May 10, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina. Debate over transgender bathroom access spreads nationwide as the U.S. Department of Justice countersues North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory from enforcing the provisions of House Bill 2 (HB2) that dictate what bathrooms transgender individuals can use. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
Elaine Martin, right, listens as Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality NC, speaks during a press conference to announce filing of federal lawsuit challenging North Carolina's HB 2 law at the LGBT Center of Raleigh on Monday, March 28, 2016. Several different advocacy groups and some of the lead plaintiffs spoke at the event. (Chris Seward/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
Joaquin Carcano, center, the lead plaintiff in the case, speaks during a press conference to announce filing of federal lawsuit challenging North Carolina's HB 2 law at the LGBT Center of Raleigh on Monday, March 28, 2016. Several different advocacy groups and some of the lead plaintiffs spoke at the event. Joaquin was born a woman and is now a man. Simone Bell with Lambda Law is at left; Chris Brook with the ACLU is at right. (Chris Seward/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
TO GO AFP STORY BY BRIGITTE DUSSEAU - Transgender delegates Jamie Shier (L) and Janice Covington pose for photographs at the Convention Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 4, 2012. The Democratic National Convention Committee announced Wednesday that US President Barack Obama would move his acceptance speech from the outdoor Bank of America Stadium to the indoor Time Warner Cable Arena due to predictions of thunderstorms. AFP PHOTO / Mladen ANTONOV (Photo credit should read BRIGITTE DUSSEAU/AFP/GettyImages)
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Parker, who served as mayor when Houston won hosting duties for Super Bowl LI to be played on Feb. 5, said by just filing the measure, which opponents decry as discriminatory, there has been damage to the image of the state that serves as headquarters for more than 50 Fortune 500 companies ranging from Exxon Mobil to grocer Whole Foods.

Texas has several upcoming marquee sporting events that could be at risk if the bathroom bill, known as the "Privacy Protection Act" or Senate Bill 6, is approved.

The legislation's outcome is unlikely to be decided before the NCAA women's Final Four basketball championship is held in Dallas this spring. But it could affect the NCAA men's Final Four basketball championship in San Antonio next year. The NCAA declined to comment.

That event's economic impact in the San Antonio area is estimated to be $135 million, according to economist Steve Nivin at St. Mary's University in San Antonio. Other estimates run as high as $234 million. The Super Bowl is expected to bring the Houston area a net economic benefit of around $350 million, according to the Host Committee.

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Around Houston, Texas -- site of Super Bowl LI
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Around Houston, Texas -- site of Super Bowl LI
Houston, Texas
Jan 7, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Fans wait to enter NRG Stadium before the AFC Wild Card playoff football game between the Houston Texans and the Oakland Raiders. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Sam Houston Equestrian Statue, Houston, Texas, United States, this 40 foot bronze equestrian figure of Sam Houston is one of the most prominent features of Hermann Park. It was sculpted by Enrico Filiberto Cerracchio in 1925. (Photo by: MyLoupe/UIG via Getty Images)
Oct 11, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; General view as Houston Astros starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel (60) throws against Kansas City Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar (2) during the first inning in game three of the ALDS at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Houston, Texas, USA downtown city skyline.
Houston Downtown sunset modern skyscrapers at Texas US USA
Houston, TX, USA - April 12, 2016: Space Shuttle Independence and Shuttle Carrier Aircraft 905 at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Texas, United States (Photo via Getty Images)
Harris County Courthouse in historic district of downtown Houston, Texas. (Photo via Getty Images)
Metro Train stopped at a platform to pick up passengers. (Photo via Getty Images)
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ECONOMIC DOOM

Visit San Antonio, the city's independent convention and visitors organization, said the bill is bad for business.

"Visit San Antonio is actively working with our state and regional travel and industry partners to oppose SB 6 and any other legislation that could cause San Antonio and Texas to be less competitive and welcoming," Casandra Matej, the group's executive director, told Reuters.

The Big 12 Conference, which in December plans to hold its football championship game in Arlington at the stadium used by the Dallas Cowboys, said in a statement it was tracking the legislation and would, "at an appropriate time, discuss its impact with our member institutions."

Under the measure, local governments would not be able to adopt ordinances dictating bathroom and locker room policies for businesses. Local governments also would be forbidden from considering those policies when awarding contracts.

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, a Tea Party Republican, has said the bathroom bill is a common-sense measure that protects against sexual predators and is a top legislative priority. He dismisses concern over any economic fallout.

"You have heard predictions of economic doom if we pass this bill," he told a news conference in January. "It is just more talk from the opponents who have nothing else to say."

The bill is likely to pass the Republican-controlled Texas Senate, but its fate in the House of Representatives is uncertain.

Speaker Joe Straus, a Republican who drives the agenda in that body, has shown tepid support, saying there are worries in his San Antonio district about what would happen to the 2018 Final Four if the bill becomes law.

"We should be very careful about doing something that could make Texas less competitive for investments, jobs and the highly skilled workforce needed to compete," Straus said in a speech this month.

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