Revised bathroom bill could cost Tennessee over $1 billion

The controversial "bathroom bill" could end up costing over $1 billion in federal education aid, according to a fiscal note released Monday.

According to the bill's fiscal note, the federal government could withhold much-needed funds if the bill is passed by the state. While the note does not give an exact amount that would be withheld, it does say that Gov. Bill Haslam's 2017-18 budget calls for nearly $1.2 billion in federal funds for K-12 and an addition allotment of $64.6 million for higher education.

Even though the Trump administration lifted federal guidelines that said transgender students should be allowed to use public school bathrooms and locker rooms matching their chosen gender identity on Feb. 22, the bill's fiscal note says "given the recent undecided litigation and the lack of concrete guidance from the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice, it is assumed that federal funding could still be rescinded as a result of this bill." 

The bill, sponsored by Wilson County lawmakers Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, and Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, would require students in public schools and universities to use restrooms and locker rooms that correspond with the sex on their birth certificates. It has drawn nationwide criticism from opponents who say it discriminates against LGBT students.

Pro-LGBT groups and demonstrators are planning to come to the Capitol on Tuesday as the House version is heard in the House Education Administration & Planning Subcommittee.

Chris Sanders, director of the Tennessee Equality Project, said "a number of folks" from across the state will meet with legislators Tuesday, the same day two committees are expected to discuss Tennessee's version of the bathroom bill.

"It's going to be a busy day, for sure," Sanders said.

This is not the first time the General Assembly has attempted to regulate public bathroom use. Last year a similar measure sponsored by Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, and Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, was withdrawn for further study.The bill carried the same dire fiscal note as this year's and faced similar criticism.

Opponents of this year's bill include Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, who called the legislation unnecessary after the Department of Justice and the Department of Education withdrew their guidance that permitted students to use restrooms of their chosen gender. Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen also said bathroom guidelines should be left to the local level.

Critics also point to the revenue the state could lose if conventions or other businesses distance themselves from Tennessee over the bill. The NBA recently moved its All-Star weekend from Charlotte, N.C., to New Orleans after North Carolina passed a similar bathroom bill in 2016.

More than 50 members of clergy from around Tennessee have signed on to a letter that began circulating last week opposing anti-LGBT legislation, Sanders said.

Sanders said there also will be demonstrations against HB0033, which would assign "natural and ordinary meaning" to gender-based terms in Tennessee Code like "mother," "father," "husband" and "wife."

Similar legislation specifically mentions those terms and has been pushed by the Tennessee Family Action Council, which opposes same-sex marriage and other measures that afford rights to same-sex couples.

The bathroom bill will be heard in the House Education Administration & Planning Subcommittee at 3 p.m. Tuesday.

The Tennessean


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