AR Briefly

Arkansas Senate approves bill restricting transgender adults’ bathroom use

By: - March 7, 2023 7:55 pm

Sen. Joshua Bryant (R-Rogers) speaks against Senate Bill 270 before the Senate on March 7, 2023. The bill would create a misdemeanor charge for adults who enter and remain in bathrooms that do not align with their biological sex if children are present. (Tess Vrbin/Arkansas Advocate)

The Arkansas Senate approved a proposed law Tuesday that would criminalize entering and remaining in bathrooms and locker rooms that do not match a person’s gender assigned at birth if there are children present.

Senate Bill 270 would add the proposed Class C misdemeanor offense to existing state law regarding sexual indecency with a child. Sen. John Payton (R-Wilburn), the bill’s sponsor, has said the bill should protect children from indecent exposure.

Sen. Joshua Bryant (R-Rogers) joined the six Senate Democrats in voting against the bill, calling it an “overreach.”

“You simply just have to occupy [the bathroom],” Bryant said. “No activity of a sexual nature is required. Why should that be therefore considered sexually indecent? If it were actually sexually indecent, the law already covers that.”

Sen. Clarke Tucker (D-Little Rock) made similar statements both on the Senate floor and in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he voted against the bill twice.

Several witnesses told the committee that the law unfairly targets and restricts the behavior of transgender Arkansans.

The bill passed the committee Feb. 27 and was taken up by the Senate on March 1. Payton pulled down the bill to make amendments, and the bill was reheard by the committee Monday.

Attorneys with the state prosecutor coordinator’s office said Monday that no existing laws consider a physical trait, such as a person’s anatomy, an element of a crime.

SB 270 provides an exception for parents accompanying their children under 7 years of age. Providing medical assistance is also a listed exception, but Bryant pointed out that there is no exception for a medical emergency someone experiences privately.

He listed examples such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, or incontinence that some older adults experience.

“All these reasons are just what life throws at us, and there isn’t a defense for any of this in this bill,” Bryant said.

He described a hypothetical situation in which a person carries a concealed handgun into a private business where guns are not allowed and someone calls the police.

“What if our law charged you with armed robbery?” Bryant said. “You didn’t brandish your weapon, you didn’t talk about your weapon, you didn’t ask anyone to look at your weapon or stick your weapon in anyone’s face.”

Such a situation would result in trespassing charges if it happened more than once, similarly to how someone could be charged with trespassing or voyeurism for refusing to leave a bathroom after being asked, Bryant said.

He added that the bill would create problems for transgender adults, especially if they “fully appear as the opposite sex” after transitioning.

“I might not understand why they did it, I might not agree with why they did it, but it was their decision as an adult,” Bryant said.

Six Senate Republicans — Breanne Davis, Jonathan Dismang, Jane English, Jimmy Hickey, Bryan King and Clint Penzo — abstained from voting on the bill. Sen. Ricky Hill (R-Cabot) voted present, and two other Republicans were absent.

The remaining 19 Republicans voted for the bill, and the House Judiciary Committee will be next to consider it.

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Tess Vrbin
Tess Vrbin

Tess Vrbin came to the Advocate from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, where she reported on low-income housing and tenants' rights, and won awards for her coverage of 2021 flooding and tornado damage in rural Arkansas. She previously covered local government for The Commercial Dispatch in Mississippi and state government for the Columbia Daily Tribune in Missouri.