Arkansas ‘bathroom bill’ would cover government buildings
LITTLE ROCK — An Arkansas lawmaker on Monday proposed prohibiting individuals from using bathrooms in government buildings that do not match their gender at birth, despite warnings from the state’s Republican governor against a “bathroom bill” targeting transgender people.
The proposal from Republican Sen. Linda Collins-Smith would require every restroom or changing facility accessible by multiple people at the same time in a government building be designated for use by members of only one sex. The bill would not apply to private restrooms.
Collins-Smith said the proposal was needed to protect the privacy of students by preventing someone of the opposite sex from changing or showering in front of them.
“It does not touch private property. It has nothing to do with businesses,” Collins-Smith said. “It sets a baseline for privacy across the state.”
The measure, introduced on the last day to file legislation, comes days after another lawmaker backed off a plan to push for a “bathroom bill” and instead called for giving immunity to school districts over their restroom policies. It also follows President Donald Trump’s decision to revoke an Obama-era federal directive instructing public schools to let transgender students use bathrooms and locker rooms of their chosen gender.
Collins-Smith’s proposal would not prevent government entities from providing family restrooms or single occupancy restrooms to people who need them for a special circumstance.
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said he doesn’t see the need for a bathroom bill similar to North Carolina’s law, which has prompted widespread criticism and boycotts from businesses. Business groups and LGBT-rights supporters have warned that a North Carolina-style bill being considered in Texas could cost that state millions of dollars and the opportunity to host future professional sports championships.
A spokesman said Hutchinson hasn’t reviewed Collins-Smith’s bill, but said his concerns remain about any bathroom legislation.
“The governor has made it clear that he doesn’t think a facilities bill is needed in Arkansas at this time,” spokesman J.R. Davis said.
The legislation has the backing of the Arkansas Family Council, which advocated for a law enacted two years ago preventing cities and counties from approving anti-discrimination measures based on sexual orientation or gender identity. That restriction is also part of North Carolina’s bathroom law.
“This is a good bill that will help ensure all Arkansans are protected and their privacy is respected,” Jerry Cox, the group’s president, said in a statement.
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgender rights group, criticized the measure.
“Proponents of anti-trans legislation are invoking a boogeyman that simply does not exist – the reality is that transgender people just want to simply live their everyday lives,” Kendra Johnson, the group’s Arkansas director, said in a statement. “Arkansas should not make the mistake North Carolina made.”