Arkansas transgender student bathroom bill advances through House committee, amends some language

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A bill to keep Pre-K through twelfth-grade students out of bathrooms and field trip bedrooms with classmates that don’t match their gender at birth advanced through the state house education committee Tuesday. The bill would also require districts to provide alternative facilities for transgender students.

To help it pass, the original language of House Bill 1156 has been amended. Where it once read non-complying schools would receive a five-percent decrease in state funding, it now holds a superintendent, principal, or teacher responsible with a $1,000 fine and the possibility of additional sanctions.

The second amendment to the bill gives an exception for immediate family of the opposite sex to share a room during an overnight school trip.

Democrat Rep. Denise Garner voted against the bill, saying it puts transgender students in her district more at risk for bullying and self-harm. She said she’s also concerned over the bill’s practicality, such as a requirement to provide a single-occupancy restroom for impacted students.

“We’re not fixing a problem. We’re causing more problems with this bill,” Garner said. “I don’t think there’s the facilities to take care of youth. I don’t think there’s a way to monitor the bill. Certainly, superintendents should not be responsible.”

But bill sponsor and Republican Rep. Mary Bentley said similar legislation already exists in states like Oklahoma, Texas and Florida. She also said creating a statewide language will protect districts like Conway from fighting their own legal battles in court.

“It really was a distraction in what they were trying to do in educating students,” Bentley said. “This is going to help all of our students not only feel safe but feel comfortable to be able to use the bathroom that they need to when they go to school.”

If weather permits, Bentley said the bill could be heard by the full house Thursday.