Arkansas ‘bathroom bill’ dead for session, to be studied
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — An Arkansas lawmaker dropped her proposal Wednesday prohibiting individuals from using bathrooms in government buildings that do not match their gender at birth after the legislation had faced opposition from the state’s Republican governor and tourism groups.
GOP Sen. Linda Collins-Smith withdrew her proposal, which would have required 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 proposal had not advanced past a Senate committee, and lawmakers are entering the final days of this year’s legislative session.
Collins-Smith said she wants the issue studied so lawmakers can look at the proposal again. She has 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.
“We’ll take any opportunity we can to pass that bill and at least we’ll have a different body that looks at it,” Collins-Smith said.
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson had opposed the measure, saying he didn’t see the need for a bathroom bill similar to North Carolina’s law, which had drawn widespread boycotts from businesses. Tourism groups had also opposed Collins-Smith’s measure, warning it could harm the state’s economy.
The Arkansas director for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights group, welcomed the news and said the impact of such a measure does need to be studied. Kendra Johnson cited a recent Associated Press analysis that North Carolina’s law would cost the state more than $3.76 billion in lost business over a dozen years
“That’s not something that Arkansas can afford and we definitely don’t want to be on the wrong side of history again,” Johnson said.
The bill had the backing of the conservative Arkansas Family Council, and the group’s head said the interim study would give supporters time to show the need for such legislation.
“I hope by the time the Legislature convenes in 2019 that we have a compelling array of evidence that this bill is very much needed,” Family Council President Jerry Cox said.
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. It also would not have applied to privately owned restrooms.
The proposal’s withdrawal comes two years after the Legislature reworked a religious objections law at Hutchinson’s urging after it faced widespread criticism that it was anti-gay.
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