The Arkansas Senate on Monday handily approved a bill that would restrict transgender people from using the bathroom of their choice at public schools.
In a party-line vote, the Senate voted 29-6 to send House Bill 1156 by state Rep. Mary Bentley, R-Perryville, to the House to consider concurring with a Senate amendment to the bill.
HB1156 would require public schools and open-enrollment public charter schools to prohibit people from using a multiple-occupancy restroom that does not correspond with the sex listed on their birth certificate.
The bill also would apply to places at schools where people "may be in various stages of undress" around others, which would include locker rooms, changing rooms and shower rooms.
Under the bill, students on overnight trips would have to either share sleeping quarters with one or multiple members of the same sex or be "provided single-occupancy sleeping quarters." A public school student attending an overnight trip may share sleeping quarters with a member of the opposite sex if the member of the opposite sex is a member of the public school student's immediate family.
The bill has a requirement for schools to provide "a reasonable accommodation" for those unwilling to use a multi-occupancy restroom or changing areas designated for the individual's sex.
Afterward, Gov. Sarah Sanders spokeswoman Alexa Henning said Sanders "believes that schools are no place for the radical left's woke agenda" and will sign legislation that focuses on protecting and educating kids, not indoctrinating them.
Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Jonesboro, who is the Senate sponsor of HB1156, told senators "there are boys and there are young girls who are afraid and do not want to spend the night or share a restroom with people of the other sex."
"That's exactly what this is about," he said.
Sen. Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock, told senators "you might believe that this bill protects kids who are not trans in school, but it doesn't."
"We've tried separate but equal in this country before and we know how that turned out," he said.
"When are we going to stop castigating and marginalizing people just because they're different?"
Tucker read to state senators parts of a 2020 U.S. appeals court ruling that a Virginia school board acted unlawfully in preventing a transgender student from using a bathroom at his high school that corresponded with his gender identity.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a transgender student is protected under federal law that bars sex discrimination in education and the U.S. Constitution's requirement that people be treated equally under the law.
But Sen. Matt McKee, R-Pearcy, said the bill is a simple solution for a simple problem.
"We discriminate based on the body parts," he said, and the bill aims to protects young men and women.
Last week, the Senate Education Committee endorsed HB1156 after the panel approved an amendment from Sullivan aimed at clarifying language that bars students from "sleeping quarters with a member of the opposite sex" during an overnight school-sponsored trip.
The amendment, which was suggested by Sen. Jimmy Hickey Jr., R-Texarkana, states students must either share sleeping quarters with one or multiple members of the same sex or be "provided single-occupancy sleeping quarters."
Bentley told the Senate committee the idea for the bill was brought to her by members of the Conway School Board, who passed a similar policy in October that caused a backlash among some within the community. Bentley said she wanted to create a state law that would shield school districts from lawsuits if they enacted a similar bathroom policy.
Sarah Everett, policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, told the Senate committee the bill would not withstand a legal challenge, as "multiple circuit courts of appeals" have said similar laws have violated federal sex discrimination statutes.
Also on Monday, the Arkansas House of Representatives voted to re-refer to the House Education Committee a bill that would prohibit school staff from addressing students by their preferred pronoun or name at the request of the bill's sponsor.
House Bill 1468, by Rep. Wayne Long, R-Bradford, would require written permission from parents before school employees could address students by a pronoun inconsistent with a student's biological sex or a name other than the one listed on their birth certificate. The bill would not apply to derivative names, such as "Bob" for "Robert," according to Long.
Long asked the House of Representatives to send the bill back to committee, saying it needed to be amended.
The House Education Committee endorsed the bill last week after Long said it's needed to protect teachers from being compelled to address students by a pronoun inconsistent with their biological sex.
The bill would apply to public schools, open-enrollment charters and public colleges, and permission would only be required for a student who is "an unemancipated minor."
"Since the bill passed out of committee, we'd run across a couple of things that we thought might need some clarification," Long said Monday.
Information for this article was contributed by Neal Earley of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.