Greg Abbott. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)
There’s no shortage of high-profile Houston lawyers among the 55 industry leaders who signed a July 31 letter pleading with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to halt passage of controversial legislation regulating which restrooms transgender people can use in the state.
“As members of Houston’s business community, we write to express our concern with the proposed ‘bathroom bill’ being considered in this special legislative session. We support diversity and inclusion, and we believe that any such bill risks harming Texas’ reputation and impacting the state’s economic growth and ability to create new jobs,” the letter said. Signatories included Andrew Baker of Baker Botts, Patrick Oxford of Bracewell, Thomas Perich of Andrews Kurth Kenyon, David Taylor of Locke Lord, Mark Kelly of Vinson & Elkins and Denis Braham of Winstead.
Lawyers who signed the letter said finding business leaders who object to the bill was not hard. “Nothing is unanimous but this was pretty much a no-brainer,” said Andrews Kurth’s Perich. When a similar proposal became law in North Carolina, the passage led to a huge economic downturn and ultimately to the repeal of the law, he noted.
“We work with the governor on a lot of things but on this one, we don’t agree,” Perich said, referring to the Greater Houston Partnership, a nonprofit business advocacy group that sponsored the letter.
Finding lawyers to sign the letter wasn’t tough either, according to Winstead’s Braham.
“I don’t think it was too difficult because the bill is so bad for business. I am outside counsel to the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, and they have been fighting it for a while. For me it was an easy decision.” Braham said in an email. “It’s bad for business and it makes our state look bigoted.”
In addition to the lawyers, a number of prominent Houston business executives, among them many of the signatory lawyers’ clients, also signed the letter to Abbott. Among them: Jeff Shellebarger, president of Chevron North America; Blake Pounds, managing director of Accenture; Steve Stephens, CEO of Amegy Bank; John Mingé, chairman and president of BP America; Ryan Lance, chairman and CEO of ConocoPhillips; Jeffrey A. Miller, president and CEO of Halliburton; Bruce Culpepper, president of Shell Oil Co.; and Linda DuCharme, president of Exxon Mobil Global Services.
With support from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s support and opposition from Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, the “bathroom bill” has no guarantee of passage. So far, the Texas House leaders have not signaled for certain if they will bring the bill to the full chamber for a vote. Meanwhile, the Texas Senate voted in favor of a version of the legislation in July.
For his part, Abbott, whose office did not respond to a request for comment, has expressed support for the bill and has told critics, including groups representing law enforcement, that they should closely review the bill before objecting. He has also noted that the legislation deals with civil rather than criminal law, suggestng it would not put any added burden on law enforcement.