Trey Paul, FISM News
An Arkansas bill that aims to keep children safe by criminalizing the act of using a public restroom that is designated for the opposite sex while a child is present is being criticized as the most extreme in the country.
According to the bill, which has already been approved by the Senate, anyone who uses a public restroom or changing room “of the opposite sex while knowing a minor of the opposite sex is present” could be charged with misdemeanor sexual indecency with a child.
State Sen. John Payton (R-Wilburn), the bill’s sponsor, specified that the bill would only apply when minors are present. He told committee members the bill is needed to protect minors from “exposure to certain elements of undress by the opposite sex” and said the overall goal of the bill is to prevent people from entering public changing facilities to look at minor members of the opposite sex.
Sen. Payton also admitted that it would be difficult to prosecute someone for violating this particular law. “I just don’t see this as being the bill that stops people from going into the wrong bathroom,” he said. “Hopefully it just limits it to when children are present.”
“Almost anything we are doing in the legislature is focused on kids and safety for kids and dignity for our children,” State Sen. Bart Hester (R-Cave Springs) said.
Still, the bill is facing backlash.
“What this is is an attack on the continued existence in public of transgender people, and the criminalization of being transgender in public,” said Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel at the Human Rights Campaign.
“Arkansas lawmakers’ efforts to deny transgender people the simple act of using the bathroom that matches their gender identity is a form of government overreach that helps no one — but it does cause real harm to everyone,” said Casey Pick, Director of Law and Policy for the Trevor Project. “By criminalizing bathroom use, this extreme bill will not only place the trans community — but any person who expresses themselves outside typical gender norms — at risk of being subjected to invasive practices, over-policing, and increased discrimination and harassment.”
The bill would apply to anyone who’s had a sex change and does provide exemptions for parents and guardians accompanying children under the age of 7.
The bill’s language defines “public changing facility” as including “without limitation a restroom, bathroom, locker room, or shower room.”
“The reality is someone that believes they are a different sex still has the right to use any bathroom they want, if they enter and there is a child in there, they just need to step out until the child leaves,” Sen. Hester said.
Although she hasn’t spoken publicly about the bill yet, a recent tweet by Arkansas governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders is signaling where she stands. The governor tweeted: “It’s International Women’s Day — a good time to remember that Democrats can’t even tell you what a woman is,” along with another tweet showing First Lady Jill Biden giving an International Women of Courage Award to a biological man.
It’s International Women’s Day – a good time to remember that Democrats can’t even tell you what a woman is. https://t.co/BPJ1fHhl5u
— Sarah Huckabee Sanders (@SarahHuckabee) March 8, 2023
Just this week the Arkansas House sent Gov. Sanders a trans care malpractice bill that would make it easier to sue doctors who provide gender-mutilating treatment to minors, which would reinstate the state’s blocked ban on that type of care.
A spokesperson with the office of Gov. Sanders confirmed she approves of the malpractice legislation.
“The governor has said that she supports bills that protect our kids and will support legislation like this that does just that,” spokeswoman Alexa Henning wrote in an email. “Only in the far left’s woke vision of America is it not appropriate to protect children.”
At least 17 bills that address who can use bathrooms have been introduced in 11 states so far this year.
The Arkansas bill is now in the GOP-run state House and is expected to land in a committee on Thursday.