By Ray Sanchez
In the first days of 2017, legislators in five states have introduced so-called “bathroom bills” restricting access to public accommodations.
Legislative moves this week in Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Texas and Virginia represent the latest efforts at the center of a broader public debate over transgender rights.
Additionally, lawmakers in Alabama, South Carolina and Washington filed so-called bathroom bills last year for introduction during the upcoming sessions.
Since 2013, at least 24 states have considered restricting access to restrooms, locker rooms and other facilities on the basis of biological sex, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The American Civil Liberties Union in May filed a lawsuit challenging Mississippi’s religious freedom law, which critics say will discriminate against gay and transgender people. Part of the law, known as HB 1523, allows employers and school administrators to dictate access to bathrooms, spas, locker rooms “or other intimate facilities and settings.”
North Carolina is the only other state to enact the controversial legislation banning people from using public bathrooms that don’t correspond to their biological sex as listed on their birth certificates.
Already, backlash against House Bill 2, the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, has caused huge economic losses for the state, such as businesses canceling plans to expand and the NBA moving its All-Star game from Charlotte to another city.
The economic costs, however, have not deterred other states from following suit:
Only three days into 2017, House Bill 106 was introduced in the Legislature. The bill would require bathrooms in public buildings “only be used by persons based on their biological sex.”
Groups such as the Fairness Campaign and American Civil Liberties Union have opposed the legislation.
On Thursday, House Bill 41 was introduced. It would require “all school restrooms, locker rooms, shower rooms, and changing rooms for use by multiple students be designated for and used by male or female students only. Defines sex as being determined by chromosomes and sex assigned at birth.”
The bill would allow “schools to provide separate accommodations (single-stall facilities or faculty facilities) in special circumstances.”
Senate Bill 98, introduced Wednesday, would similarly require “all school restrooms, locker rooms, and shower rooms accessible for use by multiple students be designated for and used by male or female students only.”
House Bill 202 would require “all public restrooms, other than single occupancy restrooms, to be gender-divided.”
House Bill 6 was prefiled before the regular legislative session begins. Known as the “Texas Privacy Act” and pushed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the bill would prohibit local governments from adopting ordinances regulating bathroom and locker room access of private businesses.
In addition, dressing rooms, locker rooms and bathrooms in government buildings and public schools and universities must be designated for use based on a person’s biological sex — as listed on the birth certificate.
Chase Strangio, a staff attorney with the ACLU, wrote this week: “Riddled with constitutional violations, the proposed bill is nonetheless another terrifying attack on an already vulnerable group of people. Patrick and others are playing on fears of trans people — the type of fears that contribute to the epidemic of violence against and suicide within the trans community — to push legislation that will result in expelling trans people from public life.”
House Bill 1612, introduced Tuesday, would requires that a government entity provide for members of the opposite sex separate restrooms and other facilities, and prohibits a person from entering a restroom or other facility designated for use by members of the opposite sex.
Responding to 2016 federal guidance
The controversial bills come after the Obama administration in May issued guidance directing public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms matching their gender identity.
A letter from the departments of Education and Justice was sent with guidelines to ensure that “transgender students enjoy a supportive and nondiscriminatory school environment,” the Obama administration said.
The administration directive went beyond the bathroom issue to touch on privacy rights, education records and sex-segregated athletics. It unleashed a fierce backlash from ministers, parents and politicians who say the federal government has gone too far.
CNN’s Dani Stewart and Jamiel Lynch contributed to this report.