New fronts open in fight over bathroom bills

New fronts open in fight over bathroom bills

Republican legislators in eight states are opening new fronts in the heated fight over transgender rights, having filed measures aimed at restricting access to bathrooms and locker rooms.

Legislators in Alabama, South Carolina and Washington filed so-called bathroom bills last year, before their respective sessions opened. Lawmakers in Kentucky, Missouri, Minnesota, Texas and Virginia filed similar bills in the opening days of their sessions this year.

Most of the measures are modeled on a law passed last year in North Carolina, when Republicans moved to preempt a Charlotte city ordinance that allowed people to use the public bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. The law sparked a backlash against the state, as hundreds of businesses and several sporting bodies decided against investing or holding events in North Carolina.

ADVERTISEMENT
The new bills would require schools, public buildings and other facilities controlled by state government to designate bathrooms or locker rooms for use based on a person's biological sex.

The Alabama measure goes further, applying to all facilities that offer restrooms. It would levy fines from $2,000 to $3,500 for businesses that do not comply with the single-sex bathroom rules.

In Virginia, the proposal specifically prohibits a person of one biological sex from entering a bathroom designated for the opposite sex. It also allows someone to sue Virginia if they believe their privacy has been violated.

In Texas, the bill backed by conservative Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) would prohibit local governments from passing laws relating to bathroom or locker room use, a preemption clause similar to the most controversial element of North Carolina's law.

"The people of Texas elected us to stand up for common decency, common sense and public safety. This legislation codifies what has been common practice in Texas and everywhere else forever — that men and women should use separate, designated bathrooms," Patrick said in a statement.

LGBT rights groups and the American Civil Liberties Union oppose the bathroom bills popping up across the country. So do some business groups, which warn such measures could lead to backlash from organizations wary of associating themselves with laws they view as discriminatory.

The Texas Association of Business, the state's Chamber of Commerce affiliate, said Patrick's legislation could cost the state up to $8.5 billion in lost economic activity.

"The so-called Texas Privacy Act won’t make restrooms any safer for men, women and children, and it will do far more harm to them than good. This legislation will needlessly jeopardize jobs, investment, innovation and tax revenue for our state, and it sullies our reputation as an open, inclusive and welcoming state," said Chris Wallace, the association's president.

The Obama administration last year issued guidance to schools that would have allowed transgender students to use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity, rather than their biological sex. But a federal judge in Texas blocked that guidance in October.

At least 24 states have considered bathroom bills over the past four years, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Those bills have largely failed; North Carolina is the only state to have passed a version. South Dakota's legislature passed its own version last year, though Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) vetoed it.

The conservative Family Heritage Alliance says it will reintroduce another version when South Dakota's legislature returns to session this year. If legislators do not pass it, the group's executive director said it will try to place it on the ballot for voters to decide in 2018.