- Associated Press - Thursday, May 19, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Conservative Oklahoma lawmakers filed legislation Thursday opposing the federal government’s guidance on the use of bathrooms and locker rooms by transgender students.

With just one week remaining before the Legislature is constitutionally required to adjourn, Republican lawmakers filed two measures opposing the guidance that calls for transgender students to be treated consistently with their gender identity.

The move comes as the U.S. Justice Department is embroiled in a legal battle with North Carolina over a bathroom access law the department claims violates the rights of transgender people. Federal officials have likened the state’s law, which requires people to use public bathrooms that match the sex on their birth certificates, to policies of racial segregation and efforts to deny gay couples the right to marry.

The Oklahoma measures were filed shortly after 6 p.m. following a meeting of state lawmakers with Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a Republican who has described the federal guidance issued last week as an unlawful and egregious overreach by the federal government.

A resolution filed by Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore, and Rep. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw, condemns the guidance and directs Pruitt to defend the state “against the overreach” of the federal government. It also urges Oklahoma’s congressional delegation to file articles of impeachment against President Barack Obama and other federal officials.

The other measure by Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, and House Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, allows students to ask their school district for an “accommodation based on the student’s sincerely held religious beliefs” to avoid having to share restrooms, athletic changing facilities of showers with transgender students.

Bennett described the federal guidance as “Biblically wrong” and said lawmakers plan to consider both measures before they are required to adjourn on May 27.

“Oklahomans are simply not going to stand for this utter nonsense,” Bennett said in a statement. He said the guidance is a violation of the state’s sovereignty and an “attempt to use our children as pawns in a liberal agenda.”

“We are going to do everything we can to protect our women and children,” Bennett said.

The guidance was welcomed by the ACLU, which said it makes clear schools have an obligation to transgender students under federal law.

“It’s about time schools understand that transgender students are fully protected,” said James Esseks, director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & HIV Project.

Republicans control Oklahoma’s House and Senate, which has in the past year passed measures supported by conservative groups that restrict abortion rights and oppose same-sex marriage.

The federal guidance is not legally binding, and courts have not definitively said whether federal civil rights laws protect transgender people. But schools that refuse to comply could lose federal education aid and face civil rights lawsuits from the government.

The measures were filed as Republicans in other states have opposed the guidance, with some seeking to join legal challenges.

In Tennessee, Gov. Bill Haslam questioned the need for a special legislative session to block it, as some lawmakers have proposed. North Carolina’s GOP chairman called on Democratic state Attorney General Roy Cooper to clarify his position on the guidance. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and Republican lawmakers in Arkansas also issued fresh criticisms.

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Senate Concurrent Resolution 43: https://bit.ly/20cDAZr

Senate Bill 1619: https://bit.ly/1OCtMlA

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