- Associated Press - Thursday, May 19, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Thursday he’s opposed to taking up legislation during this week’s session regarding which restrooms transgender people can use, but says he expects the issue to come up when lawmakers return next year.

The Republican governor said he told lawmakers he didn’t want to add the issue to the agenda for the session that began Thursday and was called to focus on his highway funding plan, saying there hadn’t been enough time to review any potential bills. Hutchinson last week recommended public schools in his state disregard an Obama administration directive that they must permit transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity.

“I do think this is going to be a continuing debate and discussion in our country and it will probably come up in the general session next year,” Hutchinson said at a news conference. “I have indicated to those legislators that I would be happy to work with them to address any privacy concerns that need to be addressed in light of President Obama’s directive.”

Hutchinson did not say what legislation, if any, he would support on the issue or whether he’d support a measure similar to a North Carolina law that directs transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds with the sex on their birth certificate. The Justice Department is suing North Carolina over that law, and the state has been the target of boycotts from businesses and entertainers.

Republican Sen. Missy Irvin said she’s working on legislation to introduce next year in response to the directive, but said she hadn’t asked Hutchinson to put such a proposal on the special session agenda.

“I was very offended by President Obama’s directive and his action because it’s a direct violation of my child’s privacy rights inside the public school system,” Irvin said.

The federal guidance does not impose any new legal requirements, but is instead meant to clarify expectations of school districts that receive federal funding. Arkansas has received $432 million in federal funds for its public schools in the fiscal year ending June 30, according to the state Department of Finance and Administration.

Hutchinson’s comments came a day after a legislative panel passed a resolution endorsing his criticism of the bathroom directive. Democrats balked at that resolution, and warned that a fight over the issue next year would bring widespread criticism similar to a religious objections measure that Hutchinson asked lawmakers to revise in 2015. That proposal came under fire from a number of businesses, including Bentonville-based Wal-Mart, as being discriminatory.

“I would certainly oppose any legislation that’s similar to what we’ve seen in North Carolina,” said Democratic Rep. Greg Leding, who opposed the resolution. “Not only do I think it’s wrong, but we’ve already seen North Carolina take a significant hit … I just hope our state could avoid that.”

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