ASAE joined business and tourism leaders in Austin this week in opposing Senate Bill 17, a pending bill in the Texas Legislature that would weaken LGBTQ rights in the state.

The bill, which would allow state-licensed professionals to deny services based on a “sincerely held religious belief,” advanced out of the Senate State Affairs Committee March 25. Opponents of the bill, including ASAE, expressed concern that the bill would give doctors, mental health professionals and others legal cover to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals without fear of losing their occupational licenses.

ASAE President and CEO John Graham, FASAE, CAE, joined leaders from Texas Welcomes All, Texas Competes, Visit Dallas, Visit Fort Worth, PCMA and others at a press conference in Austin March 27 to oppose SB 17 and SB 15, another bill pending in the Texas Legislature that could subject some Texans to discriminatory employment practices. SB 15 would prohibit cities from requiring private companies to offer paid sick leave to their employees. The bill was supported by a lot of businesses until a recent rewrite of the bill stripped language that explicitly said the proposed state law would not supersede local nondiscrimination ordinances in place in cities like Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Plano and San Antonio.

Texas lawmakers had largely steered clear of contentious social issues this session after debating a highly controversial “bathroom bill” two years ago. That bill was opposed by ASAE and many other business groups because it would have invalidated public accommodation rights for LGBTQ Texans. The bill failed to pass during the 2017 legislative session and during a special summer session.

Graham said ASAE is concerned that Texas lawmakers are steering back into an issue that could have severe economic consequences.

“Associations are a driving force behind the meetings and conventions industry, bringing their business (and dollars) to cities that bid against each other to host their events,” Graham said. “ASAE is scheduled to bring its Annual Meeting to Dallas in 2021, which will result in millions of dollars injected into the city’s economy. However, the state’s reputation and economic outlook are at risk if the state Legislature continues to pursue legislation that tolerates and legalizes discrimination as it did in 2017.”