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Arkansas bill restricting school bathroom use heads to House for approval


Arkansas bill restricting school bathroom use heads to House for approval

Jan 31, 2023 | 3:10 pm ET
By Tess Vrbin
Arkansas bill restricting school bathroom use heads to House for approval
Rep. Mary Bentley, right, listens to Conway School District board member Linda Hargis answer a question about a bill Bentley is sponsoring that would restrict students to using restrooms that match the gender assigned to them at birth. (Photo by John Sykes/Arkansas Advocate)

A bill that would restrict bathroom use in public schools based on students’ gender assigned at birth is headed to the Arkansas House of Representatives for approval after passing the House Education Committee on Tuesday.

House Bill 1156 would apply to multiple-occupancy restrooms and locker rooms, as well as rooms for students on overnight trips. The bill passed the committee without discussion in a voice vote with some dissenters.

The bill featured a new penalty clause, an amendment adopted by the House on Monday. That made the third compliance incentive written into the legislation since it was introduced in early January.

Superintendents, principals, charter school administrators or teachers would be fined at least $1,000 if they are found to violate the policy, according to the bill.

The bill originally stated that public schools would lose 5% of their state funding if they did not comply with the bathroom policy. A subsequent amendment stated that noncompliance would cost principals, superintendents and charter school administrators 15% of their salaries the following fiscal year.

Rep. Mary Bentley (R-Perryville), the bill’s sponsor, has said the bill aims to protect all students, including those with gender dysphoria, from bullying and harassment in bathrooms.

“I think it’s a great bill for our small school districts not to be inundated with unnecessary lawsuits and to allow them to focus on a child’s education,” Bentley told the committee Tuesday.

The bill mirrors a Conway School District policy adopted unanimously by its school board in October 2022. Two board members expressed support for the bill at a House Education Committee hearing last week, along with three other witnesses for the bill.

Thirteen people spoke against the bill in a previous hearing, saying it would single out transgender and gender-nonconforming youth, force them to come out at school and lead to more, not fewer, instances of bullying.

Supporters of the bill said at last week’s hearing that the idea of cisgender men entering girls’ bathrooms and harassing or assaulting them is a larger concern than transgender people using bathrooms that match their gender.

Transgender people are more likely to be harassed in the bathrooms that match their biological sex than the ones that match their gender, opponents of the bill said.