- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 29, 2014

Organizers of a Maryland petition drive seeking to repeal the so-called “bathroom bill” adopted by lawmakers this year are thousands of signatures short of their goal just two days ahead of a first deadline, a setback that could effectively end the campaign to put the measure before voters.

“We’re not there right now,” said Delegate Neil C. Parrott, whose MDPetitions.org group is organizing the petition drive. “We believe with 8,000 we will be OK, but it is a lot of signatures between now and Saturday.”

Organizers need 18,579 signatures by midnight Saturday to meet their first signature turn-in deadline and keep the effort going.

The legislation they’re challenging is the “Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2014,” which the General Assembly passed this year to increase protections for transgender individuals by banning discrimination based on gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.

But opponents of the legislation, one of the first such statutes in the nation, said the law was so loosely written it would permit men to legally enter women’s restrooms and other private spaces for voyeuristic or criminal purposes.

Mr. Parrott, Washington Republican, has sought to challenge the law by garnering enough signatures to put it on the November ballot. Over the last two years, the tactic has successfully put three bills adopted by lawmakers on ballots, though voters affirmed all three measures.

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Mr. Parrott’s group made urgent last-minute appeals to supporters this week to help the effort.

“Over the next 5 days, we need thousands of signatures to meet the deadline,” Mr. Parrott wrote in an email blast. “If you do not want for your daughters and granddaughters to have to be concerned about the risk of having a pedophile or sex-offender freely using the women’s restroom, I sincerely hope that you will act now.”

The state constitution allows a law adopted by Maryland legislators to be challenged through a petition process that, if successful, puts the measure on the ballot. To bring a bill to a referendum, petitioners must gather voter signatures equal to 3 percent of voters in the last gubernatorial election, currently 55,736 signatures. A third of those, 18,579 signatures, must be collected by Saturday in order for the effort to continue.

Organizers set a goal of gathering 25,000 signatures in order to give themselves a buffer for some signatures that might be tossed out as invalid. Mr. Parrott declined to comment on the number of signatures that organizers have collected.

“We don’t have an exact number,” he said.

Organizers plan to fan out across the state to gather signatures through Saturday.

If the requisite number of signatures are not obtained, the law will go into effect on Oct. 1. If organizers pass the first deadline, they will have until June 30 to collect the balance of the signatures. If that effort is successful, the law will not go into effect until it is decided upon by voters.

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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