OKLAHOMA CITY — A countermeasure to Obama administration guidance on transgender accommodations in public schools suffered what could be a death blow late Tuesday when it failed a committee test in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
On a 10-10 vote, the House Joint Appropriations and Budget Committee declined to advance Senate 1619 to the full House. Under normal rules, the bill would have had to get out of the committee Tuesday to reach the House floor by Friday’s mandatory adjournment.
Four Republicans joined with six Democrats to block the measure. Eight members — six Republicans and two Democrats — were not present for the vote, which occurred a few minutes before 7 p.m. after an hour and a half of discussion.
SB 1619 would require school districts that allow transgender students to use the restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity to make special accommodations for other students who believe their religious rights are being infringed upon. The bill would explicitly forbid a solution that required the objecting students to use single-person facilities.
Otherwise, “they can bring in portable toilets and put them out back and tell the Christians that’s where they have to go,” said Rep. Dan Fisher, R-Yukon, who presented the bill. “That’s why that language is in there.”
Supporters of the measure predicted dire consequences if the Obama administration guidance — which many interpret as a directive — is followed. Several members said boys and girls would begin deciding which restroom to use on a momentary whim and that girls were likely to be assaulted in bathrooms and locker room showers.
“I can only imagine what I’d be going through if I had children in school,” Fisher said. “I’d be terrified that they would be exposed to things I’ve spent my life protecting them from.”
Rep. Mark McCullough, R-Sapulpa, seemed skeptical about transgender identification in general and noted that until recently the professional term for it was “gender identification disorder.”
Democrats initially tried to block the bill from being heard in the committee, which normally deals only with appropriations bills.
Among other things, Democrats objected to the fact that it did not appear on the agenda until 45 minutes after the meeting began.
Chairman Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, ruled against the objections and called a 25-minute recess, after which Democrats dropped their procedural objections but continued to oppose the bill on practical grounds.
Several Republicans, including Sears, also opposed the measure for similar reasons.
“I grow more concerned as I read this bill,” said Sears, a former school principal. “Don’t you think it could perhaps open a door we don’t really want to open? I know for a fact there are school districts who are dealing with this and doing it quite well.”
“I’ve talked to some of my superintendents, and they don’t want to do this,” said Rep. Harold Wright, R-Weatherford, referring to the bill. “They believe it would be a mistake to do this right now.”
Opponents of the bill believe it would stigmatize individuals who often are already in fragile emotional states, and some question the religious basis of such legislation.