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Arkansas lawmakers send school ‘bathroom bill’ to House for final approval

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.

A bill restricting bathroom usage in public schools is one step closer to becoming law in Arkansas.

House Bill 1156 won approval from the Arkansas Senate Monday on a party-line vote. The bill would require students to use bathrooms and changing facilities aligning with the sex on their birth certificate, and prohibit students from sharing overnight sleeping accommodations with members of the opposite sex.

Speaking on the Senate floor, Sen. Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock, said the bill’s discriminatory nature means it likely wouldn’t hold up in court.

“There have been trans kids using bathrooms different from the ones they were assigned at birth for as long as there have been schools and bathrooms, and the reason for that is because there have been transgender people for as long as humans have existed,” Tucker said. “The only part of society that this bill maintains is discrimination, which is something else that’s existed for as long as humans have been around.”

Tucker said the bill would force transgender students to be treated differently than their peers, violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Sen. Matt McKee, R-Pearcy, responded to Tucker’s comments saying, in his view, discrimination is needed at times in order to protect children.

“This seems like a real simple problem to me, and a real simple solution. And if you want to say discrimination has existed since time immemorial, I would say I agree with you,” McKee said. “We discriminate based on your body parts. And if you want to see young men undressing in girls’ locker rooms, I think you should vote against this bill.”

McKee and other Republicans have said the bill is needed in order to “protect” students from being exposed to those with differing sexes assigned at birth. But Sen. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, said there’s no research to back up the fact that transgender students pose any risk to their fellow students.

“[At] schools with policies like this in place, trans kids experience sexual assault at a rate 10% greater than their peers. And so when I asked the sponsor of this legislation in committee to explain how she feels about that, all she could offer was that she’s interested in protecting all kids, not some special group,” Leding said. “We have data that says trans kids aren’t a threat to anybody, but this policy will pose a threat to a very small, vulnerable population of children.”

The bill passed the Senate on a vote of 29 to 6 with all Democrats voting against the measure. It could get final approval from the House this week before going to Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders for a signature.

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