- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 18, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Berkeley County schools would officially buck the Obama administration’s directive that transgender students be allowed to use the bathroom of their choice under local legislation approved Wednesday in the Senate.

Sen. Larry Grooms’ measure says every multistall restroom, locker room and shower room in the district must be used according to a student’s gender at birth. Students who ask to use alternative facilities could be sent to an employee or unisex restroom, as evaluated by principals on a case-by-case basis.

Grooms said his proposal is essentially how most school districts statewide are handling the situation anyway. The measure would apply only to next school year. After that, he said, court challenges, a new president and new administration mean the “playing field will be totally different.”

“What I’ve done for the children of Berkeley County and their parents is to give them some degree of stability about what the policies will be,” said Grooms, R-Charleston.

Meanwhile, a federal threat of withholding funds from noncompliant districts is “not going to happen,” he said.

The bill bypassed the committee process because it’s directed toward a single county. Democrats unsuccessfully challenged its local status, allowing it to pass solely by the vote of the county’s two Republican senators.

Its chances in the House are far less certain, especially since just seven days remain in the legislative session.

A statewide bill applying to all public bathrooms drew national attention but, after two public hearings, failed to ever get a vote in the Senate.

That bill also barred local governments from requiring businesses to let transgender people use the restroom of their choosing. Earlier this month, Sen. Lee Bright, attempted to attach that portion of his bill to the state budget, but the attempt was immediately challenged and ruled out of order.

Bright patterned his proposal after a North Carolina law that brought a national backlash and led to business, concert and convention cancellations. Opponents of Bright’s measure included the state Chamber of Commerce and Gov. Nikki Haley, who called it unnecessary.

Grooms contended his proposal is different because it deals solely with schools.

Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Columbia, called it a “terrible mistake” to advance a law that tramples on minorities’ rights, especially after watching what happened to North Carolina.

___

Associated Press Writer Jeffrey Collins contributed to this report.

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