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AT&T

News flash: Businesses still hate bathroom bills

IBM hates them.

As state lawmakers return to Austin for legislative overtime, tech giant IBM is stepping up its fight to defeat legislation it says would discriminate against children and harm its Texas recruiting efforts.

In an internal email sent Monday to thousands of employees around the world, IBM’s human resources chief outlined the New York-based company’s opposition to what the letter described as discriminatory proposals to regulate bathroom use for transgender Texans. IBM sent the letter to employees the same day it dispatched nearly 20 top executives to the Lone Star State to lobby lawmakers at the state Capitol. A day earlier, it took out full-page ads in major Texas newspapers underlining its opposition to legislation that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and a cadre of far-right lawmakers have deemed a top priority.

“Why Texas? And why now? On July 18th, the Texas legislature will start a thirty-day special session, where it is likely some will try to advance a discriminatory ‘bathroom bill’ similar to the one that passed in North Carolina last year,” wrote Diane Gherson, IBM’s senior vice president for human resources. “It is our goal to convince Texas elected officials to abandon these efforts.”

[…]

The email IBM sent to employees on Monday echoed concerns businesses voiced in their letter to Abbott earlier this year, saying the company — which has more than 10,000 employees in Texas — is focused on defeating the bathroom proposals because they’re detrimental to inclusive business practices and fly in the face of “deep-rooted” values against discrimination targeting LGBT people.

“A bathroom bill like the one in Texas sends a message that it is okay to discriminate against someone just for being who they are,” Gherson, the company’s HR chief, wrote.

As do other companies.

CEOs from 14 leading employers in the Dallas area, including AT&T, American Airlines and Texas Instruments, are taking a public stand against a “bathroom bill” that would discriminate against transgender people in Texas.

On Monday morning, they delivered a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus. A bathroom bill, the letter says, “would seriously hurt the state’s ability to attract new businesses, investment and jobs.”

“Our companies are competing every day to bring the best and brightest talent to Dallas,” the letter says. “To that end, we strongly support diversity and inclusion. This legislation threatens our ability to attract and retain the best talent in Texas, as well as the greatest sporting and cultural attractions in the world.”

The letter is signed by Randall Stephenson of AT&T, Doug Parker of American Airlines, Gary Kelly of Southwest Airlines, Kim Cocklin of Atmos Energy, Matthew Rose of BNSF Railway, Mark Rohr of Celanese, Harlan Crow of Crow Holdings, Sean Donohue of Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, Emmitt Smith of EJ Smith Enterprises, Fred Perpall of the Beck Group, David Seaton of Fluor, Thomas Falk of Kimberly-Clark, Trevor Fetter of Tenet Healthcare and Richard Templeton of Texas Instruments.

As the story notes, these efforts join other efforts by businesses to stop this thing. Such efforts have been met with an indifference bordering on hostility and contempt by Abbott and especially Patrick. I appreciate what all these companies and groups like TAB and the various chambers of commerce and visitors’ bureaus have done so far, which has been a tremendous help in keeping this awful legislation from reaching Abbott’s desk. But the big question remains what they will do after the special session gavels out, whatever the outcome of these efforts. I’ve had this question for a long time now. Between potty politics and the anti-immigration fervor of SB4, a lot of damage has already been done to our state’s reputation, and the men in charge keep wanting to do more. They’re not going to go away if they lose this session – they have the zealous will and a crap-ton of money powering them. Will these business interests, who have been getting so badly served by politicians they have generally supported, or at least tacitly accepted, in the past, put their money where their press conferences are and actively oppose Abbott and Patrick and their legislative enablers? Or will they bend over and take another lash from the paddle? One wonders at this point what they think they have to lose. The Chron has more.

No more White Pages

This is long overdue.

You won’t be getting the residential White Pages in February, and if recent evidence is any guide, you won’t miss the annual thud on the doorstep.

AT&T, the nation’s largest distributor of the telephone directories, has added Houston to the growing list of cities where customers will receive a printed phone book only if they ask for one. The company will continue to provide directory assistance online or by phone.

Officials aren’t bracing for a backlash. When AT&T ceased automatic delivery in Austin two years ago, a mere 2 percent of customers asked for one, said spokesman Kerry Hibbs. In Atlanta the same year, only 1 percent did.

“That saves a lot on paper and landfill,” Hibbs said Friday. “It’s good for the environment.

“It’s going to free up a lot of kitchen-cabinet space in Houston.”

I’m actually kind of old school, in that my first inclination when I need to find a residential phone number is to reach for the phone book. But that doesn’t happen much any more – I keep most of the numbers I need but may not recall offhand on my cellphone these days – and I totally agree about the boon for the environment. So bravo, AT&T, for taking this step.

Bills about cellphones and driving

Lots of action in the cellphones and driving front for the Lege this session.

In 2007, a proposed law [to restrict cellphone usage while driving] never got beyond a legislative committee. Four months later, a Houston motorist talking on a phone struck and killed Harris County Deputy Constable Jason Norling as he wrote a traffic ticket on the shoulder of the Westpark Tollway.

Once again, victims’ families will push forward. It’s a tough sell in Texas, where lobbyists representing phone companies are influential and drivers value their independence.

With one limited exception — a 2005 law prohibiting newly licensed teenaged drivers from using a cell phone during their first six months behind the wheel — previous efforts have gone nowhere.

“The communications companies have really come out strongly against my bills in the past,” said Rep. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, among at least nine legislators trying again.

Menendez talks on a phone while driving, but his phone is hands-free.

Lawmakers have filed several bills, mainly to prohibit text-messaging while driving, restrict phone use in a school zone or require all drivers to use hands-free devices.

No state has an outright ban on cell phone use behind the wheel. But about 30 other states — as well as several cities — impose restrictions, including bans on text-messaging or requiring hands-free devices.

Rep. Menendez’s bill is HB220, which would require the use of a hands-free device to use a phone while driving. SB582, by Sen. Jeff Wentworth (R, San Antonio), appears to be identical. No state may have enacted a total ban on cellphone use, but at least one group is pushing for a national law to do so. Grits notes that the Department of Public Safety is pushing for such a law in Texas, and is also lobbying for fines related to such offenses to be added to the list of those for which the driver responsibility fee is imposed, which will surely help to swell even further the number of scofflaws.

Spokespersons for AT&T and Verizon denied their companies have lobbied against cell phone restrictions, but they’re not promoting them either. Spokesman Kerry Hibbs said AT&T supports legislation to ban text-messaging while driving and has never opposed city ordinances, including some in Texas, requiring hands-free phones in school zones.

Hmmm, that’s not quite how I remember it. Hibbs initially stated that AT&T opposed the West U ban on using cellphones in school zones, and would also oppose a statewide ban. He later clarified to say that they had “begun working with legislators on a statewide law that would provide consistent, enforceable rules concerning cell phone usage for drivers” and that they would be “more than willing to work with local governments such as West University Place on ordinances that allow hands-free calling in school zones”.

Rep. Chente Quintanilla, D-Tornillo, is sponsoring legislation to crack down on several forms of “inattentive” driving, including reading, applying makeup, shaving, eating and drinking coffee behind the wheel. The bill wouldn’t forbid those practices, but it would allow fines to be doubled for traffic offenses to which they contributed.

Rep. Quintanilla’s bills are HB356 and HB738. This CTC forum thread is tracking more bills that have been filed that would restrict the use of wireless devices in vehicles. Keep an eye on that for more info. Thanks to Jon for the tip.