OLYMPIA — Urged by lawmakers who said the Legislature must protect civil rights, Washington’s full Senate on Wednesday narrowly rejected a bill that would have repealed a new state rule allowing transgender people to use bathrooms and locker rooms in public buildings consistent with their gender identity.
Three Republicans, the chamber’s majority party, joined many Democrats in rejecting the measure on a 25-24 vote.
Sen. Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, was in line with the losing side in the vote
Sen. Doug Ericksen, a Republican from Ferndale who sponsored the measure, argued during debate on the floor that the rule, created by the state’s Human Rights Commission, leaves business owners unable to stop men posing as transgender people to sexually assault women in locker rooms.
“Under this rule, practically, what can he do to be able to protect his members that are uncomfortable?” Ericksen said.
Many Democrats defended the state rule that went into effect on Dec. 26. Sen. Cyrus Habib, D-Kirkland, said there is no civil right protecting people from being uncomfortable, but there is “a civil right to be included.”
The worry that people might abuse the commission’s rule is unfounded, added Sen. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle.
“There have been no sex offenders that have been posing as transgender people to get into bathrooms,” she said.
In a statement from his office, however, Hewitt said the vote keeping the rule intact “just stomped on your right to privacy.”
"Many people have a legitimate concern that sex predators are going to abuse the HRC rule in order to get into bathrooms and locker rooms where they can see, film, or hurt young girls. We’ve seen this happening already,” he said.
“We could have come up with a better solution than the HRC rule and still protected the rights of transgender people,” Hewitt added. “The details of that rule make it illegal even to ask if someone is transgender. How are we supposed to prevent abuse of that? A mom can’t ask a naked man in the locker room if he’s transgender or she’s breaking the law. She can’t even refer to the man as ‘him’ without breaking the law.
Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, told reporters after the vote that he was disappointed the issue was debated on the floor if it was likely to fail.
But considering the emotional debate the issue has prompted in the general public, the bill deserved discussion by the whole Senate, said Sen. Michael Baumgartner, a Republican from Spokane.
Baumgartner voted to repeal the state’s rule, and is chair of the Senate’s Commerce and Labor Committee where hearings on Ericksen’s bill filled committee rooms and hallways with people.
“I certainly was disappointed in the rule because it definitely does put people at risk,” Baumgartner said, adding that it shouldn’t be up to a commission to decide one way or another on the issue.
In the House, efforts to repeal the rule have not succeeded.
Sharon Ortiz, director of the Human Rights Commission, has said the new rule was a clarification of the state’s existing anti-discrimination law that added transgender people as a protected class in 2006. The commission was created by the Legislature and is responsible for administering and enforcing that law.