HELENA, MONT. (AP) – Montana’s chief economic development officer warned Thursday of dire consequences if lawmakers entangle the state in the national debate about the use of bathrooms by transgender people.
Ken Fichtler, the governor’s chief adviser on economic development, pointed to North Carolina as a prime example of the negative repercussions that could arise over who can legally use gender-specific bathrooms.
PayPal and Deutsche Bank cancelled expansion plans in the wake of the North Carolina controversy. Other companies have reconsidered their investments in the state, and major money-making events were pulled.
“This bill is clearly counter to the economic interests that your constituents sent you here to grow and defend,” Fichtler told Montana lawmakers.
The conservative Montana Family Foundation is pushing the Legislature to place the matter before voters in 2018.
Dubbed the “Montana Locker Room Privacy Act,” the measure would define sex as “a person’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics existing at the time of birth.”
People on both sides of the issue sought to persuade lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee. Rep. Carl Glimm, a Republican from Kila, carried the bill on behalf of the foundation.
If placed on the ballot and approved by voters, it would affect how public schools, universities and other government agencies accommodate transgender people. Facilities such as locker rooms designated for use by one sex would have to provide privacy from the opposite sex.
“This bill is timely and necessary. It deals with a sensitive issue,” said Jeff Laszloffy, the foundation’s president, noting that it preserves privacy and dignity.
“Any concerns that it may hurt our economy are unfounded,” Laszloffy said.
As a referendum, the measure would skirt the authority of Gov. Steve Bullock, who has been outspoken in his opposition to measures like the one in North Carolina.
S.K. Rossi, advocacy and policy director of the ACLU’s Montana office, said the proposal would violate federal anti-discrimination laws.
“It’s so poorly and vaguely drafted that not only would it have unintended impacts on gender nonconforming people, it’s also going to embroil local governments in litigious and unreasonable lawsuits,” Rossi said. “Targeting transgender people specifically for harmful and exclusionary measures is cruel and unnecessary.”
Fichtler said North Carolina and other states have already lost hundreds of millions of dollars in business over their policies.
“Before you think that North Carolina has weathered the $630 million in directly attributable losses and therefore Montana can too, consider that North Carolina’s economy is over 10 times the size of our own,” Fichtler said.
The Texas Association of Business has said that state could lose more than $8 billion in business if it passes a bill limiting which bathrooms transgender people can use.