Transgender bathroom bill resurfaces; Oklahoma sues Obama

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OKLAHOMA CITY - Twice declared dead by Republican leadership and the LGBT community, a bill opponents see as anti-transgender is ready to make a comeback.

That means LGBT activists are back at the capitol, trying to defeat it for a third time.

"When it got revived and then it died again, I was thinking 'Three more days left in the legislative session. I can see that something else is going to come up,'" said Paula Sophia Schonauer, a transgender woman. "And, it has."

Rep. John Bennett (R-Sallisaw) and Sen. Josh Brecheen (R-Coalgate) are now the authors on a bill that was once designed to criminalize Peeping Toms.

But, now, they said they have wiped out the Peeping Tom language and replaced it verbatim with the transgender bathroom bill.

The legislation attempts to fight back against an Obama Administrative directive, which would allow transgender students to use the restroom corresponding with their gender identity, rather than their biological gender.

The bill allows students to receive a religious exemption, so they don't have to use the same bathrooms or locker rooms as transgender students.

Capitol rules prohibit newly-authored legislation this late in the session, which is why lawmakers said they had to take the cut-and-paste path.

"This was just a vehicle we had to use because the short amount of time allowed in session," Bennett said. "It's our responsibility. We took an oath to do that, to protect our citizens, and that's exactly what we're going to do."

Bennett maintains the bill should get another chance because he said many lawmakers were absent from the previous bill's committee vote.

He sees an obligation to push the legislation forward, saying social issues "are just as important as the budget is."

"It's a core function of government," he said. "It's public safety. There's no voice for those parents or those children who don't agree with what Obama's trying to force on our schools. And, they should have that same right to be protected as the students that identify with the opposite sex and are demanding rights."

Attorney General Scott Pruitt, meanwhile, is fighting the presidential directive through a lawsuit.

He said the president overstepped his bounds by issuing the directive, which could affect education funding for districts that don't comply.

He told NewsChannel 4, in a statement:

“As Oklahomans are aware, AG Pruitt has already responded to recent actions by the Department of Justice and Department of Education with a letter asking them to clarify their ‘significant guidance letter’ and what policies, specifically, schools are mandated to change regarding transgender bathroom access. AG Pruitt’s letter asked for an answer by May 24 in order to provide certainty to Oklahoma schools. That day has come and gone without an answer, leaving a clear assumption that Oklahoma schools must comply with the Administration’s demand or risk losing federal funding.

Today, because the Administration has left Oklahoma no other choice, we joined with a diverse group of states, school districts, and a state department of education to seek relief from the unlawful mandate of the Obama administration.”

Transgender rights advocates like Schonauer maintain the state is looking for a solution to a problem it doesn't have.

There are few, if any, instances of someone taking advantage a transgender-friendly bathroom to commit sexual misconduct, she said, adding she hopes her presence at the capitol will "put a face to the issue."

"We're trying to live our lives in peace," she said. "[Transgender people] want to go into the place where they feel safest, do their business and leave."

The new bill was supposed to be heard in a Senate committee meeting on Wednesday, but that meeting did not happen.

It would have to make it out of committees in both the House and Senate before being up for a vote.

The legislature adjourns Friday, and Schonauer said she's confident lawmakers will do the right thing.

"I feel like there's a lot of fair-minded people here," she said. "And, so far, the fair-minded people are prevailing."

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