A first-of-its-kind California law on transgender students goes into effect Wednesday, but its authority could end in a week if state officials find that enough registered voters want to challenge it in November.
State officials are scheduled to report on Jan. 8 whether they have received enough valid signatures to put the law, AB 1266, up for a public vote. If they have enough, the law will be unenforceable.
A coalition called Privacy for All Students gathered some 620,000 signatures in 90 days. About 505,000 valid signatures are needed to put AB 1266 before voters in November.
Meanwhile, a separate lawsuit contests the validity of more than 5,000 of those signatures; a court hearing is scheduled for Friday.
AB 1266, enacted in August, is intended to permit transgender students to choose by themselves which bathrooms and locker rooms they will use, and which sports teams they will join.
California schools are already required not to discriminate against transgender students, and they currently work with students and their families to address pertinent issues. However, gay-rights groups and some transgender students said the old policy was not sensitive enough.
“I’ve been systematically placed in a [sports] class with all girls and my school was unwilling to change my schedule,” Ashton Lee, a biological female living as a transgender male, told a June hearing before a California Senate committee.
It is “devastating for my school to deny my identity” and “make me live as someone I’m not,” the 16-year-old said, adding that “the many other transgendered youth in California need the School Success and Opportunity Act” as well.
Other Californians, including parents of schoolchildren, said the new law — dubbed the “coed bathroom bill” — is outrageous because it would force students to share private facilities with children of the opposite sex.
This week, the California secretary of state’s office said AB 1266 will go into effect as planned on Jan. 1. If on Jan. 8, there aren’t enough valid signatures in the sampling to advance the referendum, AB 1266 will remain in effect. If enough signatures are found to be valid, AB 1266 will be unenforceable while the referendum process continues.
Kevin Snider, chief counsel for Pacific Justice Institute, said this week that while referendum supporters are confident they have enough signatures to get the measure on the ballot, a subsidiary fight is brewing over the state’s refusal to accept signatures on a deadline technicality.
The skirmish involves Mr. Snider and attorneys with the firm Sweeney, Greene and Roberts and 5,000 signatures from Tulare and Mono counties, which Secretary of State Debra Bowen’s office has declined to accept.
A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Jan. 3 before Sacramento Superior Court Judge Allen H. Sumner.
Numerically, these 5,000 signatures are “not a make or break” for the overall referendum, said Mr. Snider. “But it’s a matter of principle that each voter’s opinion counts and they shouldn’t be disenfranchised.”
The lawsuit names Ms. Bowen, Mono County Registrar of Voters Lynda Roberts, Tulare County Registrar of Voters Rita Woodard and as many as 100 unnamed persons as defendants. The California attorney general’s office is named as their legal representative.
Petitioner Gina Gleason said in the lawsuit that the deadline to file signatures was Nov. 10, which was a Sunday over the Veterans Day holiday weekend.
In Tulare County, the signatures were sent to Federal Express on Nov. 7, marked for “next day delivery” to Ms. Woodard’s office. The courier arrived around 3 p.m. on Nov. 8, a Friday, and found the office closed.
The courier went to the Tulare County mailroom and found an employee still at work, but that person “refused to accept delivery of the referendum petition sections and told the Federal Express courier to return” on Tuesday, after the holiday, the lawsuit said. A Federal Express courier did so, and the petitions were accepted and signed for Nov. 12.
In Mono County, a courier for On-Trac Delivery found no one in the office on Nov. 9, a Saturday, and placed “the package in the designated mail slot” at Ms. Roberts’ office.
Ms. Gleason’s lawsuit said both counties promptly submitted their tallies of “raw signatures” to Ms. Bowen’s office, but the secretary of state refused to accept them, saying they were not “filed” when they were delivered to the county offices.
Ms. Bowen’s office has adopted a “strained reading” of the law, and is infringing on the constitutional rights of Ms. Gleason and the voters in two counties, said the lawsuit, which asks the court to direct Ms. Bowen to accept the counties’ signatures and pay court costs.