NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A bill to require students at public schools and colleges in Tennessee to use restrooms and locker rooms matching the gender listed their birth certificates failed in a Senate committee on Wednesday without debate.
Sen. Mae Beavers, a Mt. Juliet Republican who announced this week that she is exploring a bid for governor in 2018, failed to a receive a motion from any member of the Senate Education Committee. The lack of a motion effectively kills the bill.
The legislation had been subject to several demonstrations at the state Capitol this year. The protests spurred talk of heightened security features to enter the Capitol complex, though none have been announced or put in place to date.
Republican Senate Speaker Randy McNally of Oak Ridge lauded the panel for deciding not to pursue the bill this year after President Donald Trump’s administration withdrew former President Barack Obama’s directive that schools let students use bathrooms of their self-identified gender.
“The president’s reversal of the Obama administration’s overreaching cultural assault brings the issue back where it belongs: our local communities,” McNally said in an email. “Unneeded legislation would only result in invasive litigation placing our school bathroom policies in the hands of federal judges rather than our friends and neighbors.”
On the federal level, the U.S. Supreme Court recently opted not to decide whether federal anti-discrimination law applied in a school transgender bathroom case.
Similar legislation failed in Tennessee last year.
Bathroom bill opponents point to the backlash that hit North Carolina after its Legislature approved a similar bill in March 2016. Several major sports organizations shifted events away from North Carolina, and businesses such as PayPal decided not to expand in the state. In November, Republican Pat McCrory, who signed and defended the bill, became the only incumbent governor to lose in the general election.
“I’m just glad that it’s done with,” said Henry Seaton, the LGBT organizer for the ACLU of Tennessee who also fought last year’s bill as a transgender high school senior. “And I think that our legislators are learning more and more that discrimination has a high cost, both monetarily and politically.”
Sarah Kate Ellis, president/CEO of the LGBT group GLAAD, said the bill would’ve “caused public backlash, upended the state economy, and put the lives of transgender Tennesseans in jeopardy.”
The snub from senators drew disappointment from House bill sponsor Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon.
“I’m feeling that a lot of them, they didn’t even have the backbone that we’re trying to stand up to protect our children, our grandchildren, our daughters, our wives, sisters and such, and it didn’t even get a motion to get a fair hearing,” Pody said.
David Fowler, president of the socially conservative Family Action Council of Tennessee, said he thinks “tens of thousands of Tennesseans will see this as an insult to their values.”
Last month, protesters interrupted a news conference by Beavers and Pody on the legislation, calling on them to “pull the bill.” The two lawmakers walked out, and protesters followed them to their offices.
In response, McNally told reporters the same day that the House and Senate were considering requiring people to show ID and get a name tag to enter the Capitol complex. Discussions are ongoing, said Adam Kleinheider, McNally’s spokesman.
Beavers also hired private security officers when protesters staged sit-ins at her Capitol office. McNally’s office said leadership didn’t authorize the security, and the officers were told specifically not to carry weapons.
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