- Associated Press - Thursday, May 26, 2016

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas Senate’s top leader wants her chamber to vote next week to condemn the federal government’s recent directive to public schools to allow transgender students to use facilities associated with their gender identities.

Senate President Susan Wagle’s office disclosed Thursday that the Wichita Republican is drafting a nonbinding resolution for the chamber to consider when lawmakers also plan a brief ceremony formally adjourning their annual session. She sent an email Wednesday evening to GOP senators, telling them that their attendance is “very important.”

Wagle sent her email hours after House Speaker Ray Merrick began circulating a draft protest letter promising that Kansas lawmakers would “use every possible avenue” to resist the guidance issued earlier this month by President Barack Obama’s administration. Merrick, a Stilwell Republican, plans to send the letter to federal officials next week.

Wagle didn’t immediately return a cellphone message seeking comment, but spokeswoman Paje Resner said there is “significant” interest among GOP senators in taking a recorded vote against the federal directive.

“We’ve talked to several members of the caucus, and that’s what they were interested in doing,” Resner said.

Tom Witt, executive director of the LGBT rights group Equality Kansas , said Republican legislative leaders are finding time “to pick on little kids going to the bathroom.” The group scheduled a Statehouse rally for next Wednesday, the day of the adjournment ceremony.

“We are talking about singling out a very vulnerable group of schoolchildren and subjecting them to harassment and violence,” Witt said.

Supporters of the federal directive argue that it prevents discrimination.

But Wagle’s email labeled it an “overreach,” and Republican officials in Kansas question whether the Democratic president’s administration has the legal authority to enforce it. Critics also contend such a policy violates most students’ privacy and endangers their safety.

Two separate but identical bills were introduced in March in the Kansas House and Senate to block schools and colleges from allowing transgender students from using facilities associated with their gender identities. But neither received even a committee hearing.

Wagle and Merrick launched their protests the same day Texas and 10 other states filed a federal lawsuit challenging the directive. Wagle said in her email that her resolution will encourage state Attorney General Derek Schmidt , also a Republican, to get Kansas involved.

Schmidt has promised publicly to work closely with the 11 states but noted that Kansas already is involved in another case before a federal appeals court in which a transgender Virginia teenager sued to be allowed to use the boys’ bathroom at his school.


Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .

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