Public Radio from UA Little Rock
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Amended Arkansas ‘bathroom bill’ advances from Senate committee

A sign marks the entrance to a gender-neutral restroom at the University of Vermont in Burlington, Vt. in 2007.
Toby Talbot
A sign marks the entrance to a gender-neutral restroom at the University of Vermont in Burlington, Vt. in 2007.

Arkansas lawmakers have advanced a bill putting new restrictions on public restroom usage.

Members of the Senate Judiciary committee on Monday once again voted to advance Senate Bill 270 to the full Senate for a vote. The panel most recently endorsed the bill late last month, but it was re-referred to committee members after being amended.

The bill would make it a crime to “knowingly remain” in a public bathroom or changing facility inconsistent with one’s sex assigned at birth if a minor is present. Bill sponsor Sen. John Payton, R-Wilburn, responded to criticism that the bill would unfairly target transgender people.

“In my lifetime I’ve seen plenty of heterosexual people that tried to peep in windows… and I think there’s multiple reasons why we should try to get a little bit of control on this situation when minors are present,” Payton said, adding he doesn’t think the legislation is strict enough in its current form.

The bill would have charged people with a felony on their third offense, though Payton ultimately amended that provision out. Sen. Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock, said the bill could potentially lead to the government putting regulations on private industry.

“It says ‘public changing facility’ means a public or private facility. So now, if this bill passes, we’re setting law not only for government-owned bathrooms but for bathrooms of privately-owned businesses as well,” Tucker said.

Bob McMahon, the state’s prosecutor coordinator, testified during the committee meeting that it is still unclear from the bill’s language exactly how long someone would need to remain in a bathroom with a minor present for it to be considered a crime.

“‘Remains’ is not defined in the statute, but I think it would be determined by a prosecutor and law enforcement with investigation on a case-by-case basis. I don’t know how else we would be able to do that,” McMahon said. “It would depend on the facts of a particular case as to how we’d interpret that, and we’d exercise our discretion on whether to charge or not.”

McMahon responded to a question from Sen. Tucker as to how law enforcement would determine a person’s biological sex.

“We could try to get a search warrant to get that information, we could possibly do a subpoena to get medical records, but in that case we would get HIPAA issues… and of course, you could do blood tests,” McMahon said.

If passed, Arkansans would face misdemeanor charges for violating the law. The bill passed committee on a voice vote Monday and now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

Daniel Breen is a Little Rock-based reporter, anchor and producer for KUAR.