PHOENIX -- The furor surrounding a new anti-discrimination law has found its way to the state Capitol, with opponents pushing a bill that would block many transgender people from using the public bathroom of their choosing.
GOP Rep. John Kavanagh wants to create Arizona's first law governing restroom privileges. Under Senate Bill 1432, someone would be guilty of disorderly conduct if he or she uses a bathroom, locker room or dressing room that's not designated for the sex listed on his or her birth certificate.
The House Appropriations Committee will address the issue at a hearing Wednesday, and dozens are expected to turn out for the testimony.
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Some Phoenix City Council members see the proposal as a rebuke to their vote last month to broadly outlaw discrimination against the city's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents. A council majority approved the changes after more than five hours of emotionally charged testimony.
Councilman Tom Simplot, who is openly gay and pushed the reforms, said if SB 1432 becomes law, it would criminalize the "very nature" of being transgender, a term used to describe people who identify as a sex different than that they were born as.
"They're creating a solution to a problem that doesn't exist," Simplot said of the proposal. "This kind of extremist legislation is exactly what brings criticism to Arizona and compromises our work to make Phoenix an accepting and competitive city."
At the center of the controversy is a debate over whether Phoenix's new ordinance allows a person born a man but identifying as a woman to use the women's restroom and vice versa. There's no legal consensus, but city attorneys have said that a transgender person might, in some cases, have a discrimination claim under the law if blocked from using the restroom.
Critics of Phoenix's move have repeatedly raised fears that the city opened the door for sexual predators to share bathrooms with women and girls. They labeled it the "bathroom bill," a nickname gay-rights advocates said was an inflammatory distraction.
"This is about the person who will use gender identity or expression as their ruse to gain access to opposite-sex facilities," Cathi Herrod, president of the conservative Center for Arizona Policy, said after the council approved the ordinance.
Kavanagh, who could not be reached for comment, submitted the proposal as a "strike everything" amendment to an existing bill, meaning it strikes out all the original language and uses its shell to advance an entirely different proposal. Because it has an emergency clause, the law would go into effect immediately if the governor signs it.
The bill would make it illegal to enter a bathroom if signage indicates it is exclusively for the opposite sex. Authorities could charge violators with a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by a $2,500 fine and up to six months in jail.
It includes exemptions for children who need assistance, the physically disabled, people giving aid to others and those who must enter a bathroom as part of their job responsibilities, such as a janitor or maintenance worker.
News of the latest so-called bathroom bill quickly spread online Tuesday and attracted the attention of national gay-rights groups. It follows several high-profile U.S. cases involving bathroom use for transgender people, including several school districts that have struggled with such policies.
Much of the recent attention has focused on the case of a 6-year-old born a boy but identifying as a girl who was prohibited from using the girls bathroom at a public school. Her parents are now fighting the school district, citing Colorado's 2008 anti-discrimination law.
Michael Silverman, director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, said the bill puts Arizona in the minority of states that are curtailing rights. He said 16 states and more than 160 cities and counties, including Phoenix, have passed laws protecting against discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression.
"Many transgender people do not look like the sex that's designated on their birth certificate," Silverman said. "This bill will put transgender people in serious danger."
Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff are the only Arizona municipalities that have adopted similar laws.
Dustin Gardiner, The Arizona Republic