- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 13, 2010

Add equal bathroom access to life, liberty, happiness and the other things the government wants to make sure American citizens enjoy.

Some call it “potty parity,” others label it “porcelain proportionality” — but a bipartisan group in Congress, braving potential public ridicule, says it’s time federal buildings provide equal bathroom access for women, who are currently burdened by long lines and the need for more time once they get in the door.

Led by Rep. Edolphus Towns, New York Democrat and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the lawmakers want most federal office buildings built or leased from now on to have at least as many toilets for women as they do toilets and urinals for men.

“The fact that many federal buildings do not provide as many restroom facilities for women as they do for men is simply unfair. It’s time for that to change,” Mr. Towns said Wednesday at a hearing he called to gather information on his bill.

But measuring commode conformity is not cut and dried.

Some argued that it means equality of opportunity, as judged by the number of stalls, while others said equality of outcome is the key, which could be measured by the length of lines.

“Women on average take about twice as long to use facilities as men. The result is still going to be much longer lines for women than men,” said John F. Banzhaf III, a law professor at George Washington University who has helped craft some of the potty-parity laws enacted in states.

Mr. Banzhaf said some courts have ruled that providing the exact same facilities still could be seen as having a disparate impact because of the inherent different challenges the two sexes face.

He pointed to a federal appeals court decision that held a construction site that provided portable toilets was in violation because women, unlike men, always have to sit down, and so face a less-clean situation.

He said Wolf Trap, the National Park Service’s outdoor concert venue in Fairfax County, had two men’s and two women’s restrooms, and men breezed through while women waited in long lines. So one men’s room was converted to a women’s room and now “today everyone waits in line.”

The average age of federal buildings run by the General Services Administration is 46 years old, meaning most of the buildings were designed at a time when men far outnumbered women in the work force. A disparity in facilities was common.

Mr. Towns‘ bill would require any new buildings built by the government to meet a 1-1 ratio, and would tell the government to give preference to buildings that meet that standard when they make leasing decisions. That provision could help ensure a nationwide standard.

Dozens of states and localities already have rules. Some require ratios as high as 2-1 women’s rooms versus men’s rooms.

Still, there’s some question as to whether a federal law is a solution in search of a problem.

Robert A. Peck, commissioner of public buildings at GSA, which manages most civilian government office space, told lawmakers he has checked and that neither he nor his senior managers see lines outside of government restrooms, nor do they get complaints.

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