REP. CINDY CRAWFORD: head sponsor of a new bathroom bill

A bill to force schools, arenas and all other publicly owned buildings in Arkansas to require people to use the bathrooms that correspond to their sex at birth got gummed up in a House committee Monday over worries that it could cost the state millions.

House Bill 1882 by Rep. Cindy Crawford (R-Fort Smith) will be sent for a fiscal impact study and then will come back the House Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs, Chair Dwight Tosh (R-Jonesboro) said. Tosh made the order for a fiscal impact study after nearly an hour of testimony from people who opposed the bathroom bill. Many of them represented universities, prisons, arenas and other government entities and said the costs to meet requirements set out in HB 1882 would be sky high.

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Gretchen Hall, CEO of the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau, called the bill “simply bad on multiple levels.” She noted that a requirement within the bill that publicly owned facilities provide an additional class of bathrooms could cost millions. Specifically, the provision requires “a reasonable accommodation to a person who for any reason is unwilling or or unable to use a multioccupancy restroom or changing facility that is: (A) Designated for the person’s sex; and (B) Located within a government building.”

This law would pertain to lots of facilities you might not expect, Hall said, noting that both the Marriott and Doubletree hotels are municipally owned and leased out to private entities. Under HB 1882, the hotels would have to provide alternative bathroom set-ups for transgender people else make themselves vulnerable to the lawsuits the bill allows should someone encounter a person of the opposite sex in the bathroom of a government building.

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Like many who testified against HB 1882, Hall pointed to the reaction to a similar bill that North Carolina passed in 2015. Immediately, entertainers, the NCAA and conventions pulled out of the state.

Stacey Hurst, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, said her worries went beyond the infrastructure costs to build private or gender-neutral bathrooms, showers and locker rooms to meet the bill’s requirements. Those costs at the state’s 52 parks, 14 travel centers and four museums would be hefty. But Hurst said she also worried the 2022 Cyclocross World Championship currently planned for Fayetteville will go elsewhere, taking its anticipated millions of dollars in tourism revenue with it.

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Crawford presented her bill flanked by Ken Yang, director of governmental affairs for the Arkansas Family Council. Deemed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Family Council is a driving force behind the raging culture war at the Capitol this session that has transgender children, abortion access and gun safety in its cross hairs.

Yang said this law is needed to protect girls from being attacked in bathrooms by biological males who identify as female. And Crawford said the bill’s requirements could be met easily at the Capitol and in schools and universities by keeping men’s and women’s bathrooms but designating one bathroom as gender neutral.

Questioned by Rep. Marcus Richmond (R-Harvey), Yang acknowledged that there’s no real expectation that people would be guarding bathroom entrances at publicly owned buildings, and that the real point of HB 1882 is to provide the ability to sue government entities that don’t comply.

Government officials also testified about how much it might cost to retrofit prisons and jails to meet the new requirements. And Michael Marion, general manager of the Simmons Bank Arena in North Little Rock, said he will lose lots of money-making events when events were finally starting back up after the pandemic. He had to lay off staff over the past year, and money remains tight.

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“Spending money on bathrooms for just a few people is not at the top of my wish list,” he said.

While it was economic worries that seemed to resonate with committee members, plenty of people who came to testify on the bathroom bill offered moral reasons against it.

Entering a restroom to assault someone is already illegal, noted Sarah Everett, an attorney with the ACLU. “All this bill would do it target trans people for further discrimination,” she said. She also pointed out that everyone has probably already used a public bathroom while a transgender person was in it, they simply didn’t know it.

“I’m here to speak against the bill as a woman who has used women’s bathrooms my whole life,” Arkansas social media sensation Kelly Krout said when it was her turn at the microphone. She noted that if this bill passes, a person who is born female but transitions to become a man will have to use the women’s bathroom, which could be alarming, especially if he has facial hair.

Krout called on lawmakers to change course and stop passing bills that persecute the state’s tiny transgender population. There are families trying to leave our state to protect their trans children in light of new laws, including one that bans trans girls from playing on sports teams with other girls and another that will prevent trans youth from accessing lifesaving gender-affirming care that has been proven to reduce suicide attempts.

“If your gut reaction to that is, ‘Well, good,’ that’s incredibly heartbreaking,” Krout said. The attention that we’re  getting nationwide for this kind of stuff is perpetuating an image that Arkansas is unwelcoming and unkind.”

It’s not clear how long the fiscal study on HB 1882 will take, or when it will be back before the committee.

Another anti-transgender bill is scheduled for this afternoon, when senators in the Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee will take up Senate Bill 347, a measure to make it a felony for health care providers in the state to administer any gender-affirming care to anyone under 18.