LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Transgender people at Arkansas public schools would not be able to use the restrooms matching their gender identity under a bill advanced by a state House committee on Tuesday.
The House Education Committee endorsed the legislation, which would apply to multi-person restrooms and locker rooms at public schools and charter schools serving prekindergarten through 12th grade. The measure now goes to the majority-Republican House, which could take up the legislation as soon as Wednesday.
Arkansas is one of several states where lawmakers have proposed bathroom bills for schools this year, and similar restrictions have been enacted in three states.
Critics called the latest push an effort to spark another court challenge to transgender students’ rights and is not addressing any real problems.
“For states to be passing these kinds of bills at this point is really them issuing a challenge to the federal government and saying, ‘We know that this is what you think the law says and we’re ready to do battle with you,’” said Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights group.
Republican Rep. Mary Bentley, the bill’s sponsor, said the legislation would protect students and has said she filed the bill after speaking with members of a local school board that enacted a similar policy last year.
“Every child in our schools, and each school, has the right to privacy and to feel safe in their bathrooms at school,” Bentley said at a hearing on the bill last week.
Bentley’s proposal requires schools to provide “reasonable” accommodations, including single-person restrooms. Superintendents, principals and teachers who violate the prohibition could face fines of at least $1,000 from a state panel, and parents could also file private lawsuits to enforce the measure.
A far-ranging bathroom bill that was enacted in North Carolina in 2016 prompted boycotts and protests, and a year later the measure was rolled back. Past efforts to enact similar legislation in Arkansas have stalled over concerns about similar consequences for the state.
The bill advanced as the majority-Republican Legislature is poised to make Arkansas the first state to impose restrictions on drag performances. A House committee is expected this week to take up that legislation, which would classify drag shows as “adult-oriented” businesses, and Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she supports that bill.
In a statement Tuesday, Sanders’ office did not specifically say whether she’d sign the bathroom bill if it reaches her desk.
“The governor believes our schools are no place for the radical left’s woke agenda and would sign a law that focuses on protecting and educating our kids, not indoctrinating them,” spokeswoman Alexa Henning said.