Florida Republicans pass bill targeting transgender bathroom use


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Despite Republicans curtailing its scope, Democrats still vehemently opposed the legislation, arguing that the policies are targeting transgender people. Republicans, however, argue the bill is are about protecting “public safety, decency and decorum.”

“We’ve had a huge scientific study with billions of people for 136 years that separate facilities work,” state Rep. Rachel Plakon (R-Lake Mary), who carried the House bill, said on the floor Wednesday. “Vote ‘yes’ for common sense.”

DeSantis is widely expected to sign the legislation.

One of the more contentious bills lawmakers considered in Florida during the two-month annual session, the proposal comes as state Republicans push legislation focused on how gender identity and sexual identity intersect with parental rights and education in general.

It joins other moves by Florida Republicans and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration focused on the transgender community, including Republicans seeking to pass a bill banning gender-affirming care for transgender minors and a recently-enacted state prohibition on Medicaid paying for gender-affirming care such as puberty blockers and hormone treatments.

Named the “Safety in Private Spaces Act,” the legislation approved Wednesday is similar to bills taken up in conservative-leaning states like Iowa, Arkansas, Alabama, Oklahoma and Tennessee. In 2016, North Carolina enacted one of the first “bathroom bills,” a move that sparked widespread blowback from businesses, the NBA and NCAA.

The bill opens the door for any person 18 years or older to be charged with a second-degree trespassing misdemeanor if they enter a restroom or changing facility designated for a person that isn’t the sex they are assigned at birth — and refuse to leave when asked by someone else. The bill also requires local school districts to craft code of conduct rules to discipline students who do the same.

Democrats argue that the legislation is “dehumanizing” and effectively “politicizing bathrooms” to benefit conservatives politically, namely DeSantis, who is widely expected to run for president. They took aim at how Republicans have discussed the issue, such as one conservative House member who called transgender people “demons” and “mutants” and questioned how it could be enforced.

“You have no idea what you’re doing here because you can’t think past your hatred, and you can’t think past your discrimination,” state Rep. Kelly Skidmore (D-Boca Raton) said on the floor Wednesday

Before approving the legislation, lawmakers changed the bill Wednesday to specify who can ask someone to leave a restroom. For schools, as an example, teachers, administrators or school safety officers would have that authority.

It also requires places such as colleges and government offices to establish disciplinary procedures for employees who use restrooms that don’t align with their sex at birth.

Florida Republicans defend the proposal by noting it includes no mention of transgender people or any particular group. They said the legislation will codify in law what are “universal common decency standards.”

The legislation, however, allows someone to chaperone a child or accompany an elderly or disabled person into a restroom that doesn’t align with their sex at birth. Law enforcement officers and medical personnel are also exempt if they’re responding to an emergency.

“There’s not anything in the language of this bill that is targeting any specific group,” state Sen. Erin Grall (R-Fort Pierce), who carried the Senate bill, said on the floor Wednesday. “Rather, it speaks to the differences that we have as different sexes, as male and female.”

Democrats, though, contend that the policies will isolate members of the transgender community, and possibly lead to increased acts of violence against them.

“Somebody out there is going to take that into his or her own hands into stopping somebody who’s transgender from using a bathroom,” said state Sen. Victor Torres (D-Kissimmee), who spoke Wednesday and in the past about his transgender granddaughter.

Jon Harris Maurer, public policy director of the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida, said the legislation criminalizes transgender people for using bathrooms that “aligns with how they live their lives every day.”

“This bill opens the door to abuse, mistreatment, and dehumanization,” Maurer said in a statement. “Our state government should be focused on solving pressing issues, not terrorizing people who are simply trying to use the restroom and exist in public.”

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( With inputs from : www.politico.com )

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