Arkansas Governor: Keep Transgender Bathroom Bill Off Session List, Try Next Year

May 19, 2016

Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) speaking to reporters after addressing the Arkansas General Assembly at the beginning of a special session.
Credit Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

Gov. Asa Hutchinson says he’s worked with fellow Republicans to keep a transgender bathroom bill off the agenda of a special session he called to address highway funding. Instead, Hutchinson plans to work with lawmakers on legislation for next year’s lengthier, regular legislative session.

During a press conference, Hutchinson said adding the item to the special session has the potential to detract from his primary objective.

“I did oppose adding at the last minute an additional item to address privacy in facilities and the reason being it had not been vetted out, it had not been reviewed, it had not been discussed and debate sufficiently,” he said.  “Just as importantly, this is a highway session. I did not need to have that complexity as we entered the highway session.”

Senator Missy Irvin of Mountain View was considering filing a bill to make using a restroom that differs from one’s gender identity on a birth certificate a sex crime. Irvin told KUAR on Thursday morning she will not carry that bill this session.

But Irvin or other lawmakers may have an ally in the governor during next year’s regular legislative session.

“It will probably come up in the general session next year,” said Hutchinson. “I’ve indicated to those legislators I will be happy to work with them to address privacy concerns that need to be addressed in light of President Obama’s directive.”

The governor said his commitment to work with legislators on the issue in the future helped quell the immediate desire to legislate.

“I’ve had a wonderful conversation, very detailed, with some of the members that were pushing a new approach for facility privacy,” he said. “Based on my assurance that I will work with them in the coming months I don’t anticipate them trying to present this in this session.”

Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) talking about transgender rights with reporters.
Credit Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

In the meantime, the first-term governor from Gravette in northwest Arkansas says he and others should start a dialogue on the issue.

“I have asked [Education] Commissioner Key to make sure that we talk to school superintendent and principals and teachers as to how we can have an environment in the school that is safe, assures privacy, but also meets the needs of the local community, parents, and people that are impacted by this,” said Hutchinson.

“This is not a top down approach from Washington. That was my main objection as to what President Obama did last week. We don’t need a directive from Washington, we want a thoughtful approach from our schools as we approach these very sensitive areas.”

Last week the governor called on Arkansas schools to ignore federal guidance on transgender rights and access to facilities in public schools. Earlier this week a legislative committee passed a resolution opposing the president’s guidance and supporting a North Carolina law barring transgender people from using bathrooms that match their gender identity.