By Jack Fink

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DALLAS (CBS11) – Some business and tourism groups in Texas are sounding the alarm about a controversial new bill regarding public bathrooms.

Critics of the Texas Privacy Act claim if passed by the state legislature, it could cost Texas up to $8.5 billion in lost events, business and jobs.

But supporters of the legislation say critics are spreading fear.

If passed, the bill would require transgender people to use bathrooms that match their biological sex at all public schools, public universities and government offices.

The bill would also negate ordinances in cities like Dallas, that say otherwise.

On Wednesday, representatives from convention and visitors bureaus from across the state and event planners gathered on the steps of the Texas Capitol to announce their opposition to the bill and the start of a new campaign, “Texas Welcomes All.”

They worry the bill would hurt Texas the same way a similar law impacted North Carolina, where the NBA and the NCAA moved sporting events to other states, citing the climate the measure created there.

Critics claimed the North Carolina law, known as HB2, would cost the state $5 billion in lost economic activity.

But that state’s Commerce Secretary said in a speech last October that the bill’s impact was minimal.

Still, the Texas Association of Business, which opposes the Texas Privacy Act says its analysis shows “47 percent of meeting planners will now ‘absolutely’ avoid planning events in states that pass discriminatory legislation.”

Next year, the NCAA Final Four will be held in San Antonio.

This spring, the NCAA Women’s Final Four will be held at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.

No major events in Texas have been cancelled after the filing of the bill.

The owners of a nearby restaurant, BuzzBrews Kitchen, say they oppose the legislation.

“We wouldn’t advocate for anything that would hurt our economy or the city or would deter anyone or group from coming here,” said co-owner Megan Estep.

Her husband, Ernest Belmore, says 35 percent of the restaurant’s business comes from events at the AAC, “which is considerable.”

Belmore and Estep operate four other BuzzBrew Kitchens in Dallas.

One of them is in Deep Ellum, where the bathroom attracts attention.

“We get a lot of chuckles,” said Estep.

There may be separate doors to the bathroom but it’s one combined room with four separate, enclosed stalls.

“It’s kind of a unisex bathroom in a sense,” said Belmore.

While all private businesses and facilities are exempt from the bill, he questions the need for it. “We don’t need so many rules that are not going to do what they’re intended to do”, said Belmore.

But Republican State Representative Matt Krause of Fort Worth said the bill, “just ensures women and children are safe when they go into public facilities, and I don’t think anyone should be upset or alarmed about that.”

He and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, who’s pushing strongly for the bill’s passage, reject opponents’ claims.

Patrick says his polling shows most Texans favor the bill.

There’s a lot of misinformation there, hyperbole, and rhetoric,” said Krause. “We’ve had Super Bowls. We’ve had Final Four. We had the Country Music Awards, we’ve had Wrestle-Mania. We’ve had every sporting event, every big music event you can think of, there’s not one instance of discrimination.”

But House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, has reportedly said the bill isn’t a priority for him.

After being elected unanimously by 150 members of the Texas House Tuesday, Straus hinted to that effect during remarks to legislators. “If someone wants to invest in Texas, and they want to bring commerce and opportunity to our state, we should welcome them. This state should invite economic activity, not turn it away.”

(©2017 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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