By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports
The Senate Education Committee moved a bill forward Thursday that would prohibit K-12 public schools from allowing anyone to use a bathroom that doesn’t match their biological sex.
Sen. Ben Adams, R-Nampa, presented Senate Bill 1100 on Thursday, taking aim at states that accommodate transgender students. The bill passed 6-2 on a party-line vote.
Idaho currently leaves the decision on where and how to accommodate transgender or non-binary students to the school districts.
The committee heard an hour and a half of testimony from the public, with comments ranging from concerns for transgender people to concerns for cisgender students facing abuse.
Adams framed the bill as a privacy issue.
If the bill passes, schools would be required to maintain separate restrooms, showers, dressing areas, locker rooms and overnight accommodations for biological girls and biological boys. The school would need to find accommodation for any student who is unwilling or unable to use the standard bathroom.
“This legislation is trying to make sure we give every child the same right to privacy,” Adams said.
There is also an exemption for safety emergency situations and natural disasters.
The bill includes a civil action option which states that any student who used a facility could sue the school if a person of the opposite sex also used the facility with the school’s permission. The plaintiff could sue as late as four years after the incident, for $5,000 for each instance in which they came across the person of the opposite sex in the facility. Further damages could be requested for psychological, emotional and other harm suffered.
The Caldwell School District was recently forced to postpone a discussion over a draft gender policy when attendees became disruptive. Another meeting was canceled after Sen. Chris Trakel, R-Caldwell, and others led the board to stop the meeting.
Adams pointed to the issue in Caldwell as an example of a “no-win” situation.
“Our schools shouldn’t be fighting a culture war in the courts,” Adams said. “They should be teaching our kids.”
Multiple testifiers said the potential for rape or sexual assault would increase if transgender people are allowed into bathrooms matching their gender identity.
“Why do we have to wait for somebody to be injured or hurt or raped before we implement a law?” Trakel asked the committee. “Don’t wait until some small child is molested or raped in a bathroom.”
No one offered examples of transgender people committing assault in Idaho. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center reports that transgender and non-binary people experience sexual violence at a higher rate than cisgender people, and nearly half will experience sexual violence in their lifetime.
Those in opposition to the bill argued that it targets transgender students rather than offering a solution.
Amy Dundon with the ACLU of Idaho argued that the bill discriminates against children on the basis of their sex and gender identity.
“It singles out transgender students and aims to exclude them,” Dundon said.
Emilia Connelly, a transgender woman, spoke in opposition to the bill.
“The authors are correct in that students deserve privacy,” Connelly said. “That should be in the form of stalled doors and individual curtained areas. I won’t argue about whether gender dysphoria is caused by a physical or a mental defect. Either way, this bill is part of a broader campaign to deny vulnerable children the lifesaving treatment they need.”
Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, said she had concerns around who would check and verify the biological sex of students, and about adding possible litigation burdens to school districts.
Sen. Scott Herndon, R-Sagle, said the superintendents in his district have been asking for state direction.
“This protects all students going to our schools,” said Herndon. “It’s going to provide the needed statute in law that our schools are requesting, and for that reason, I absolutely stand in support of getting this bill to the floor.”
The bill now heads to the Senate for a vote. It must also pass the House and the governor’s desk to become law.
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