Montana State Capitol – Photo: Martin Kraft, via Wikimedia.
Montana lawmakers have defeated a bill that would have imposed North Carolina-style bathroom restrictions dictating which public restrooms transgender people may use.
The Montana Locker Room Privacy Act, which failed in the state House of Representatives, would have required a public referendum on the issue of which restrooms transgender Montanans would be allowed to use, reports the Helena Independent Record.
If that initiative passed in November of this year, a person would have been able to sue any government agency, be it an individual school or a country, that they believed had not taken “reasonable steps” to prohibit the presence of people in restrooms that don’t match their biological sex at birth.
Opponents had objected to the bill, arguing it would discriminate against members of the transgender community. Others said that the bill would burden already stretched police forces, who would be tasked with enforcing the bill, thereby diverting resources that could be used elsewhere to police public restrooms and changing spaces.
The latter idea is not too far-fetched: A bill was proposed in Alabama this year that would have required public multi-user restrooms to be monitored by a “restroom attendant”, tasked with ensuring that only those people whose biological sex matches the gender designation of the facilities are allowed to use them.
Opponents also cited the potential cost of any economic backlash to the bill. Recently, the Associated Press estimated that North Carolina lost nearly $3.76 billion as a result of passing the anti-transgender HB 2 “bathroom bill.”
Some lawmakers even brought up the issue of the already high suicide rate within the transgender community, which they worried might increase if the bill were to pass.
“When this law passes and people are taking their lives, that’s on us in this committee,” said Rep. Shane Morigeau (D-Missoula). “When we see stories pop up in the paper, this committee is going to be responsible for that.”
Supporters of the law argued that it’s essential to protect women and children from sexual predators who might pose as transgender in order to gain access to intimate spaces where people are in various states of undress. As in other states, supporters couched their support of the bill as essential to protecting public safety and personal privacy.
“If we don’t do this, I could actually walk into a bathroom, a girls’ bathroom or shower and I would find it offensive that I could do that,” argued Rep. Barry Usher (R-Billings).
Rep. Carl Glimm (R-Kila), the bill’s sponsor, has until Thursday to decide whether he wants to force a vote of the full House on his bill. But even if it receives a floor vote, passage remains uncertain.
If Glimm does not ask for a floor vote, or his bill fails outright, the Montana Family Foundation has a backup plan: take it to the people via a ballot initiative in 2018, and circumvent the legislature entirely.
“The people of Montana want to see privacy, safety, and dignity protected in our locker rooms and showers,” Jeff Laszloffy, the president of the Montana Family Foundation, told the Independent Record in a statement. “Girls shouldn’t have to shower in front of boys. It’s just common sense. We will take the Locker Room Privacy Act to the people and let them have their say.”