Jan. 26, 2023
Rep Evans: House committee on Education. Committee Members, a little housekeeping note that you’ll wanna make. Our committee photo will be next Thursday, February 2nd. It will be at 9:45 am on the House steps, just down the hall. So, next Thursday, 9:45. Bruce, you got time to figure out what hairstyle you’re gonna wear. Good. Members, we’ve got a big crowd here today, and I know we’ve got a lot of test – different ones that have signed up to speak on House Bill 1156. Wanna make you aware just that due to an amendment that was filed on the bill yesterday, we are going to hear that amendment here in Committee and adopt that amendment to the bill. And then the bill sponsor is going to present her bill today. We will hear testimony from each side. Due to the fact that that amendment could trigger a new fiscal impact, we will not take action and vote on the bill today. We do not have that fiscal impact back. We don’t expect it to be any type of substantive change, due to our rules and processes, that’s – we’re gonna have to take that action today. So with that, Representative Bentley – oh, one other thing too. It’s 9:45, and we must wind this down no later than 10:50 this morning. The house convenes at 11. So, my plan is to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to speak, and that all testimony is given.
In the event that we’re starting to run long, we may have to limit debate to a certain amount of time per side, give the bill sponsor ample time for closing. If we do not get to that point, then it is my plan that we will go into recess, so that the House can convene promptly at 11, and then we will come back upon adjournment of the House to hear the remainder of the testimony. If you have signed up to speak for or against the bill, and your comments are repetitive to the 1 or 2 that’s ahead of you, we certainly do not discount your comments whatsoever. We want to hear the debate from both sides and all vested parties. But let’s just not get repetitive and everybody go to the end of the table and say the exact same thing. Let’s just be somewhat courteous of the time constraint that we are a little bit on today. So with that Representative Bentley, you are welcome to go to the end of the table, and present House Bill 1156.
Rep Bentley: Colleagues, Chairman, thank you so much for allowing me to be here today. So we’ll start with this amendment that I brought here this morning. I think you guys have all got a copy to the amendment that I am bringing to you this morning. It is a very simple amendment. At the request of the superintendents that are supporting this bill asked me to make some changes to the amendment that I did on member’s own. Very briefly just changed some wording there that they feel comfortable with. And I’m happy to help work with the superintendents that want to make those adjustments, so, with that, I would just ask for a good vote on this amendment and we can proceed with the bill.
Rep Evans: Members, I’ll give you a few seconds to just looked over the amendment. Again, it’s very minimal but it was a change that the bill’s sponsor was asked to make and she graciously made that.
Rep Bentley: It’s just a little bit of a different enforcement method than we have used in the past. Wording’s a little bit different, not the first time we’ve used that. Any questions?
Rep Evans: Any questions regarding the amendment? Representative Cozart, you’re recognized.
Rep Cozart: Motion to approve amendment.
Rep Evans: We have a motion to approve the amendment, as presented to House Bill 1156. All in favor say aye. Opposed nay. Amendment has been adopted. Representative Bentley, you’re recognized to present House Bill 1156, as amended.
Rep Bentley: Chairman, with your permission I’d like to bring two school board members up here with me as I present this, from Conway, is that okay with you?
Rep Evans: Yes, ma’am, that is fine. Just make sure they identify themselves for the record please.
Rep Bentley: Linda and David, please come here. He’s gonna grab that chair.
Hargis: I’m Linda Hargis. I’m on the School Board in Conway, Arkansas.
Naylor: David Naylor Jr. and I’m also on the School Board at Conway, Arkansas.
Rep Bentley: Colleagues, I’ve asked these school board members to sit beside me because they’re the reason that I presented the bill. They brought the bill to me, actually. Dr. Naylor came to our National Association of Christian Lawmakers meeting, and presented the bill. They then passed it as model policy. And then Linda came to me and shared with me the bill as well. Their concerns, well before session ever started, their concerns was going on. What they had to endure as school board members, what was going on with our students and what has happened in Conway. So, I want them beside me for you to see that’s what we are working today. We are helping our students, we are helping our school boards and our teachers and that’s what this bill is about today. This is a common sense bill to protect the safety of our students, and as I said it was brought to me by my school board members that are sitting with me today. Every child in our school, and each school, has the right to privacy and to feel safe in their bathrooms at school. Unfortunately, many of our students have suffered sexual abuse. Having a member of the opposite sex in their bathroom would be very stressful at the very least to them. As I campaigned, went door-to-door, throughout my district I heard from parents across my district who were very concerned about what had happened in Virginia. What was on the news and what they were hearing there. Where a young girl was raped in the bathroom by a young man who identified as a female in that school bathroom. Unfortunately, that young man was moved to a different school, and proceeded to do the same thing to a different young girl.
Our parents are concerned that their students can go to school and feel safe in their bathroom. And I think that this is very important for us to do this as a state policy to bring forth so our school boards are not – have to suffer the distraction that they do when they try to implement the policy themselves. They need to focus on educating our students, taking care of those kids, and making sure they get a good education at school. Passing this bill here is setting a state policy will help the school boards and principles to focus on educating our children. You will hear testimony from these two school board members exactly what they went through when they passed this policy in Conway.
This bill does not discriminate against anyone, and is not unconstitutional. And in a recent ruling in the 11th circuit Court of Appeals in Florida, a bill with a very similar wording was upheld in court and I’d like to read a little bit from that ruling. So in the 11th Circuit Court it says that both sides of the classification of biological males and biological females includes transgender students, to say that the bathroom policies singles out transgender students mischaracterizes how the policy operates.
Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, but expressly permits separating the sexes when it comes to bathrooms and other living facilities. When we read ‘sex’ in Title IX it means biological sex, and as we must, the statutory claims resolves itself”. So, it’s already been resolved in court that this is constitutional and what we’re doing is to protect our students. I want to briefly hit over the bill, here, 1156, again it’s very simple. It simply states that girls will go to the girl’s bathroom and boys will go to the boy’s bathroom. And those students that are – have difficulty, or are just not comfortable doing that, they will be given a place where they can use a restroom, a changing room, and a locker room. So, I think it’s a very simple bill. I’m gonna let you guys hear from these school board members briefly, and then we’ll take all the questions you guys have before we go into further debate. Go ahead.
Hargis: As I said, I’m Linda Hargis. I was in the educational system for 33 years; 25 as an English teacher and 8 as an assistant principal. I’ve been retired for 14 years, and 13 of ‘em I’ve pretty much done what I wanted to until I had a group of former students come to me and ask me to run for school board. At which I said no. And they said come to one meeting, listen, and then we’ll leave you alone if you say no. And I did. And it shook me to the core to see what was going on in our schools. The books, the bathroom issue, the social agendas and the political agendas that are in our classrooms don’t leave room for academics. I feel like God gave me a rest for 13 years, and He’s the reason I’m sitting in this chair. Because I have a renewed commitment, and I have a passion for the children in our school system, and the teachers. They deserve better than what they are getting right now. I’m gonna repeat a little of what you said. But we had an incident at the very beginning of school where a young man registered with his parents, wanted to be called a girl’s name, wanted pronouns, wanted all the things that girls have on our campus. The teachers were called together and instructed to accommodate. And I had a teacher text me and she said, Linda, I can’t do this. It goes against my moral values, it goes against my belief system, I cannot do it. So I sent her to the superintendent, and he told her, you’re not obligated to do that.
So this incident, and the overnight travel incident that we had last year, is what prompted us to come up with this bill or policy. And it mirrors, exactly, the bill. We have safety, and kid’s rights to be protected here. I would ask you ladies, when you were in school, would you have ever thought about a biological male walking in your restroom, or your locker room where you’re half-clothed, or not clothed. How would that have made you feel? And I will ask you gentlemen the same thing, but I’m not gonna ask you how it would have made you feel, I’m gonna ask you how you would feel if your daughter was in that situation. Our kids have the right to feel comfortable and safe in their space. Without this bill, and policy, we are creating a perfect storm. Mary mentioned the incidents that have already happened through this nation, girls being assaulted. But the flip side of that is there have been biological males who have gone into girl’s restrooms who’ve been falsely accused. They didn’t do anything. They were innocent. So this bill protects both of them. It protects the girls and it protects the boys. I’ll also mention that if we don’t have a policy or a bill, what’s to keep any young man from walking into a bathroom? Nothing. You can’t police that. You can police this bill because they’re not allowed in there; but you can’t police it if they are.
The other reason is because of the rights of our students. If this biological male, who is a transgender or female identity, wants to use the restroom or the locker room, from my perspective he has the right in any public forum to be called what he wants to, to feel what he wants to. To live his life, or her life, like they want to. But those rights stop at that door of that restroom or locker room. Those girls have rights, they have the right to feel safe, and they have the right to feel comfortable in that room. I was taught that my rights end where yours begin, and that’s the situation here in these restrooms and locker rooms. The young man’s rights end, where those girl’s rights begin. Our policy and this bill provide a solution. We have given the biological males and the biological females who have a different gender identity a space to be safe, and to be accommodated. Single occupancy bathrooms, restrooms. Our students who are forced to use multiple occupancy bathrooms have no choice if you don’t pass this bill. They don’t have a choice. And from that standpoint, I think that we are setting them up for a risk, to be harmed. I get a little bit choked up on this. Because, I believe what God said when He said “you protect my little children”, and I think we are obligated to do that. We are obligated to protect these children. Please, please, vote yes on this bill, and make all of our students safe and comfortable. Thank you.
Naylor: Good job, Linda. Dr. David Naylor Jr. I’m from Conway. I’ve been the team football doctor since 2000. Went to the School Board meetings for a year before I ran this last May with Linda, and decided I needed – that I thought we needed to get involved more at the school board level. This policy, before I got on the board, the reason some of this came up is we had a issue on a trip out of town. Where we had a biological male, that was transitioning to female, that was placed in a room with two females on a overnight trip for the school. That came to the attention of the superintendent, I think even the State said look, we can’t make you pass a policy, but you’re going to need to address this. Okay? That started with the overnight policy. I’m always asked why did you guys do this. Well, that kind of made us address this. So on the overnight policy that we discussed, we said hey, if you’re born male you are going to room with a male, if you’re born female you’re going to room with a female. And if you are not wanting to do either; we’ll give you a single room and we’ll pay for it, completely pay for it, because we want to take money out of the way in case someone wants to go on the trip. We didn’t want to penalize the student. So that’s what started this.
We, obviously, tackled the bathrooms, also. If you would have told me five years ago that I would be presenting to you guys on where people go to the bathroom, I would have laughed a little bit and said there is no way. But, that’s where we are. And people say why did you tackle this? Well, we’re here, and if you don’t think we’re here, you haven’t paid attention. And so, we tackled the bathrooms, we tackled the policy. We got a lot of pushback, a whole lot of pushback. We knew that was going to come. But we got pushback through emails, people protesting, which is absolutely their right. We had people arrested at our school board meeting. The three people arrested were from Mayflower, Little Rock, and Bentonville. This was at a Conway School Board meeting. We’ve had activists come in from all over. I laugh, I’ve been cussed from Wales to San Francisco to everywhere on email. But the pushback was great, and the group we have is an awesome group with our President Andre’ Acklin and Jennifer Cunnigham, Trip Leach and Jason Sandefer, they were all with us. This is a team deal, and then we later put Bill Milburn on. But this group thought that this was very important for our kids. And when you pass these policies, the bathroom policy now, you’re not just talking about a 18-year-old. Because we are K -12, and I had to say this many times, we are not a upper-education, we are not a university, we are not a college. We are K-12. And you have to remember this goes down to the middle schools, this isn’t just a high school issue. This is a junior high issue, this is a middle school issue, and this is an issue that happens, also, at a basketball game, at a volleyball game, at a cheerleading thing at the school. Any school activity is covered under this bathroom policy. So this covers quite a lot of stuff.
What I would say to you guys is, we want to educate. We are on this school board to help with education. We are not here to always talk about bathrooms, and three months after we passed our bill we’re still getting pushback. So what I would ask you guys is pass this bill and help all these schools around the state. Because some of the schools aren’t going to, probably a lot, aren’t going to want to tackle this. They’re not going to want to take the heat, they’re not going to want to get the threat of getting sued by the ACLU that I’ve gotten three emails about. They’re not going to want to go through all that. And they’re not going to want to take this public heat, but they believe in this bill. Help them out. Help the small schools. Help these schools, that their kids are not going to get represented because, to be honest with you, they don’t want to deal with everything that comes with this. You guys– when I went door-to-door, it was amazing, like the Representative said, how many people wanted to talk about this issue. Well all of us, including us and we’re a very small level at the school board, we all ran to listen to our constituents. And those people elected us, and I think they probably elected you, to lead. To be leaders in the state. And that’s why they elected us. They expect us to all be leaders. They expect us to do what’s in the best interest of these kids. And that’s why we came here, that’s why I took off clinic this morning, because I thought that it was very important that we get behind Representative Bentley’s bill. I appreciate you guys.
Rep Bentley: Colleagues, thank you. Right now is answering any questions any of you might have.
Rep Evans: Any questions by the Committee? Representative Hodges, you are recognized for questions.
Rep Hodges: Thank you Mr Chair. Representative Bentley, or your guests, you all might want to address this. My question would be on the accommodations. Can you speak to, in Conway, maybe, specifically, and then maybe in general how would the accommodations work? Does every building have single occupancy bathrooms available? Do we know what that’s like state-wide? And, if there is not a single occupancy bathroom available, what would be another option for accommodation?
Naylor: So, at Conway, and I forgot to say this, so at the highschool when we passed this bill to be honest with you, the next day at school, nothing changed. It’s exactly what we had been doing for several years there at Conway. So we do have single occupancy bathrooms that we’ve been using at each school. There is one at each campus. I can’t speak to other schools, but again, we had already been doing this for several, several years at the high school we just didn’t have a policy on it. But it’s absolutely what we been doing. All this heat came down but to be honest with you the next day when we go to school in high school, nothing changed at Conway High, it was the same.
Hargis: I would add that, I know that our auditorium, I don’t think has a single occupancy restroom. But from my standpoint, there needs to be one created for this. And I think that’s what this bill calls for, isn’t it? That you have to offer them an accommodation.
Rep Evans: Representative Flowers, you’re recognized.
Representative Bentley: Can I put a word in real quick, Chairman? Real quick, just to answer that? I would just say Representative Hodges, most all schools have single occupancy spots at the nurse’s station and throughout the building. I’ve not heard from – And I’ve brought this to all the superintendents in my district. 5 of the districts they didn’t have any problem at all with this issue. They said it would be something they could handle without an issue. So I have not heard — anyway, there is spots available, and this will make, probably, even more. Right? Probably make even more options for those students that don’t want to use the male or female bathrooms. I’m sorry, thank you, Chairman!
Rep Evans: Representative Flowers, you’re recognized.
Rep V Flowers: Thank you, Mr Chair. Thank you for your presentation. I do have a few questions. I’ll just start with the issue around compliance with the legislation and when you talk about “things didn’t change at Conway”. I’m wondering what that would look like at smaller schools that don’t already have single use restrooms, and what that cost would be. And then I look at the fiscal impact, and it says that there is no fiscal impact, so there’s that. But then, what if a smaller school can’t afford a single use bathroom? And, in trying to comply with the law, there is a non-compliance issue. Which goes to my second question about, how do you enforce this? If someone is identifying as a certain gender, or someone looks like they are another gender – because I remember, I thought a lot about when I was in school, you asked what about when you were in school? I remember not playing sports because I didn’t want anybody –I didn’t want to change in front of anybody!
Hargis: That’s right, that’s right.
Rep V Flowers: I remember going to school with girls who didn’t necessarily look like a girl, to me, or boys who looked very effeminate. So when you get adults into the picture saying where do you belong? How do we enforce that? And then finally, in the mix of all of that there is a 15% penalty against schools and their budgets. Going back to that same small school, that might not be able to renovate or purchase building materials to create a single use bathroom. I’m mixed up and trying to figure out.
Rep Bentley: I’ll address this. Let Dr. Naylor start then I’ll finish. Go ahead.
Naylor: Oh yes ma’am, excellent question. I’m going to address the bathrooms in the physical building then. So we are meeting with an architect when we’ve got to do, we need a building at the junior high or junior high’s older. We need to look at a career center, doing something with the career center. But in talking with superintendents, and going through the architect, what they’re running into now, the architect, is when they build new schools. The schools, since they’re not tackling this, are having to build a lot of single occupancy bathrooms. And the cost, to them, on these new buildings is a lot higher than it used to because they’re having to do how-many-ever single bathrooms it takes instead of having a group bathroom. So it’s actually raising the cost on all these new buildings to do – to go that way. And he talked about how, again because nobody wants to tackle this, they’re just adding all these single bathrooms. If you are a school the size of Conway High, which I think we have a little over 2200 kids, in one school, that’s a lot of single occupancy bathrooms if you are building a new place. That’s the flip side on the cost.
Rep Bentley: Actually, this bill will help those, okay? Every school district, every other besides Conway, and all mine are very small. And they all have single occupancy bathrooms already there, there is absolutely no issue for them. That’s why it is at a 0 fiscal impact. They already have them in the nurse’s station and throughout the building have single occupancy bathrooms for their students. There’s really no issue there. They’re already there. What he’s saying is the opposite. If we don’t pass this bill so they can still use group bathrooms we are creating a greater fiscal impact on the smaller schools. I have heard from – like I said, I have some very small school districts and they have absolutely no problem with this. They already have single occupancy bathrooms, and they already have this policy in play because they want to protect the students that are going through some tough times. Anybody else have any questions?
Rep Evans: Representative Wing, you’re recognized.
Rep V Flowers: I’m sorry, I didn’t – one of my questions didn’t get answered.
Rep Bentley: I’m sorry, the 15%, let me just address that real quickly.
Rep Evans: Representative Flowers, I gave you a little leniency of three in one. So, if y’all would answer her second question.
Rep Bentley: I’m sorry, so the 15%, in looking at the bill. We don’t want to hurt students, and the 5% cut to their budget was hurting students. We need to address the admin– The adults in the room need to address the situation, so that’s why it’s a 15% cut into the salary of the superintendent and the principal of the building. Because it’s not the student’s fault if it doesn’t be complied with, it’s the adults in the room, the administrators. So the cut is to the administrators that should be making sure this policy gets set in place, not to affect the student’s budget at all. That’s why I took away the 5% that originally, before the amendment, it did say a 5% cut to the funding of the school and that hurt students. I don’t wanna hurt students. We’re making the adults in the room be accountable to what they need to do, make sure it’s safety for all of our kids. So it’s a 15 cut in the salary of the teacher, not the teacher, excuse me, of the administrator and the principal of the building. That’s why we did the little adjustment ‘cause these superintendents felt better with the amendment we did at the beginning. I’ve talked with many of them and that’s why we made the amendment at the beginning of the bill earlier, to address the situation. That they had the concerns they had on that. I believe it’s fine now with them. So we’re making the adults in the room be accountable, and that’s why we did the 15% in the salary, not the 5% cut to student’s funding.
Rep Evans: Representative Wing, you’re recognized.
Rep Wing: Thank you Mr. Chair. I was wondering, you were talking about student safety and can you help me understand what the policy is with regards to adult’s access to the bathrooms that the students use? Like teachers.
Rep Bentley: Teachers have their own. What do the teachers do, David?
Naylor: Well the teachers, yes, at each school the teachers have a single bathroom. Is that the question?
Rep Wing: No, as far as the bathrooms that the students are using day-to-day, do the teachers?
Hargis: The single occupancy bathrooms?
Rep Wing: No, the multi –
Hargis: The multi-
Rep Wing: Yes, the multi-use.
Rep Wing: Do the teachers have access to that? Do the teachers go in and use those restrooms? What kind of oversight, what kind of?
Hargis: Normally, teachers do not go in and use those restrooms, because they have their own restrooms.
Rep Wing: And is that a policy? Or is that just a choice, thing?
Hargis: It’s just a choice.
Rep Wing: They can use those if they want to? They just –
Hargis: I’ve recommended, because bathrooms are usually where most of your problems happen in schools. I have recommended that we have female teachers going into those bathrooms during class changes. And the same thing for the male bathrooms, I think that would solve a lot of problems. I hadn’t gotten it done yet, but I’m still working on it.
Naylor: Yes, and we’ve got – at Conway, like at Junior High and Highschool, we’ve got several Dean of Students that are male and female. And, that’s kind of what they do, is they’re kind of policing the entire campus including the bathrooms. So the females policing the female bathrooms, and the males are policing the male bathrooms. We actually have cameras now that are up outside the bathroom, obviously not inside. But if something happens in the bathroom, if somebody gets in a fight, or somebody’s vaping or whatever, we got vape detectors now. But they can roll back the camera and see who came out of the bathroom at the exact time. So they know exactly who’s coming in and out of the bathroom.
Rep Wing: Okay. Alright, thank you. Appreciate that.
Rep Evans: Representative Garner you’re recognized.
Rep Garner: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I’ve got so many questions it’s hard to decide where to start. But one is, I’m really concerned with the students that have gender dysphoria. And obviously you’re a family practice doc, I hope you know what that is and how important it is to take care of these students. That because of no fault of their own are being discriminated against. So I have a real problem with that. And I don’t understand how even with one bathroom, we dealt with all this with the disabled community, disability community. We need to accommodate so that those students are included not excluded from the organization. And this makes it sound like students with gender dysphoria are the problems, and that is not statistically correct. We don’t have – most gender dysphoric students don’t want to go into regular bathrooms, or are afraid to go into regular bathrooms. They are not the ones instigating these issues. They’re the ones that the issues are instigated against. So how can, I don’t understand how we don’t open ourselves up to a lawsuit with Title IX? We are obviously discriminating against those students, and Title IX says we cannot do that. So that’s my first question. How do we, as a state – is it really a problem in all of the schools enough to – we know this bill will be sued. We’ll be sued for this bill. It’ll be blocked and we’ll be sued. Is it happening enough? Or, I don’t understand what the prob – or how this really settles the problem of deviant behavior from folks enough that we’re discriminating against gender dysphoric students. And we’re opening ourselves up for a huge cost in litigation fees in the State of Arkansas for something that I have 6 school districts in my district and nobody’s ever said anything to me. And when I went to talk to them about some of these issues in the bathrooms, it’s not gender dysphoric. It doesn’t have anything to do with gender dysphoric. It has to with aggression, it has to do with anger, it has to do with other kinds of issues, but not gender dysphoria. And we’re taking that we are talking about these issues in a way that is discriminatory to those students and we are opening ourselves up. And personally I don’t want my tax money going to litigation over these bills if there’s not a problem to begin with. And it sounds like Conway may have a problem. But I can tell you that in my district nobody’s come to me and said – and my superintendents do not want this bill.
Hargis: Well, how do you justify it for the places that have had girls assaulted in the bathroom? One is too many.
Rep Garner: I would say that it doesn’t have anything to do with their gender at birth. It has something completely different. There’s some other issue than gender dysphoria. That is not the issue.
Rep Bentley: The issue here, and with this bill, is to keep students safe. All of our students safe.
Rep Garner: I see that.
Rep Bentley: We’re not just picking one or two out; we are keeping everybody safe. And we have a safe – this bill clearly gives a safe place for everybody to go to the restroom, so we are handling –- it does. It gives a safe place for everybody to go to the restroom, a safe, private place for them to go to the restroom. That’s exactly what the bill does. It’s already been sued. The 11th Circuit Court says it’s perfectly legal, it is constitutional. I will read it again if you want me to read it again, but I have already given in testimony that it’s been held up in the 11th Circuit Court, it’s perfectly legal, constitutional. It’s already been in Oklahoma for quite some time, now in Florida and in Texas. So, these things are being taken, because we don’t want – we want to focus on educating our students. This bill’s to say we have kids, we’re going to keep everybody safe. It provides a safe place for everybody to go to the restroom. Everybody to feel comfortable to go to the restroom, including every girl and every boy in this school has a safe place to go to the restroom. And our students, and our faculty, and our school boards can all focus on educating our students, because at the end of the day, that’s the most important thing is that they get a good education not distracted and Dr. Naylor wanted to say a little more.
Naylor: Well I was just gonna say, at Conway, because obviously we looked at this for several, several months before we did it. At Conway, I think the numbers I got out of the Junior High and Highschool it affected 8 out of 3900 kids. So we absolutely want to be cognizant of those 8. But at the same time we also want to– what about the 7th or 8th girl that just wants to go to the bathroom? And they’re not comfortable in there with a biological male, and that’s what it comes down to. So out of the 8 out of 3900, what about all the others that just want to go to the bathroom? And I’ll be honest with you, when I was in 11th grade, if I could have gone to a single bathroom with everything that happened in the bathroom I would have been okay with that. And so.
Rep Evans: Members, let me remind you. We are at the point of Parliamentary process where it is question and answer. This is not debate, and this is not a lobbying effort; so if you have specific questions for the bill sponsor or you have specific questions for those here, this is the time where you will ask those. I ask you at the end of the table to answer the questions. We have a lot of people here, a lot of people that want to speak so let’s be a little cognizant of our time. Representative Flowers, you’re back up.
Rep V Flowers: Thank you Mr. Chair. The one point, or question, that I had is how this is enforced? Given that it’s not always readily obvious, and not only the gender dysphoria as an issue but you have intersex children. And the bill provides for parents to be able to sue if they have a child who has felt uncomfortable, and believes that they were in an environment where someone of the opposite sex was with them. So if that complaint is lodged at the school board level, before it even gets to litigation, then what? What does the school do to enforce this?
Rep Bentley: The school knows their students, right? Just like on any other issue, whether it’s a health issue, whether the child has diabetes, whatever goes on the school nurse, everybody knows the students in their building. We’re going to enforce it like we would any other time. We’re gonna enforce it with the staff, the faculty know each student in that building what’s going on with each one of those students. They’re going to enforce it just like they would anything else. Any other rules they have there. It’s not like this is something different, or unique. We have rules we put in place all the time in our schools. So each one of the students are known by their staff, and the faculty will know what’s going on with them. We need to, what’s going on, because there may be some other issues that we may need to address. It’s not like it’s a changing student population every day. It’s the same kids every day. We know our students. We know who’s there, they know what’s going on with those students and doing their best to help each one of those kids. It’s not like it’s a public forum where it’s an auditorium of new people every day. They know the students in that building, they know who’s there and most of them have cameras. Most of them have cameras outside there. They’re going to enforce like they would any other rule that you have on a school campus about smoking, about vaping, about all those different things that we’re working on. We’re going to enforce it.
Rep V Flowers: I’m sorry, I didn’t mean how we would enforce it physically with what we know. I mean how would we know, or be able to determine, that a student – how would we be able to determine a student’s biological – biologically assigned sex?
Rep Bentley: Every student is gonna go through the nurse. And when each student enrolls in school, they’re gonna know they’re gonna have their birth certificate, they need to. It’s not like it’s some mystery on what the student is when a student enrolls at school. I think it’s the –
Naylor: And I was just gonna say on, the reason, again, we did this is because on the overnight policy that we looked at. The reason we did this is the first thing the teacher said, to be honest with you, when she’s talking to superintendent and he’s like “can we just have common sense” and the teacher said “there’s no policy”
Rep Evans: Dr. Naylor, if you would; would you pull that mike a little closer to you? We’re having some folks having some trouble hearing.
Naylor: Oh, sorry. Yes sir. The first thing the teacher said is, to the superintendent when he said hey, why don’t we have some common sense on this now with the schools dealing with this, is the first thing the teacher said was well, there’s no policy on it. And so, again, that’s why we’re having to draft policies. It’s because some, the very small amount, but there has to be policy. That’s what we do, is we pass policy. Getting into legal, that’s for the legal team, but we pass policy. And the teachers know what the policies are, and they know when there’s no policy.
Hargis: Can I add one thing? It’s like Representative Bentley said. Administrators and teachers know the students in the school. To me, it’s a lot bigger task to police if you allow biological males into girl’s bathrooms or vise-versa. I mean, you’ve gotta be on your toes to make sure that every young man that goes in there is a gender identity student. But when you say you can’t go in. They know their students, and if they go in that’s an easy police situation. That make sense? Not really?
Rep Evans: Representative Garner, you’re recognized.
Rep Garner: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I just want to go back to a little bit about clarity of implementation. And I happen to represent, or have happened to represent the largest school district in the state. And so, I can guarantee you that there are teachers, there are administrators, there are staff people that do not know every student in the school. We have too many students. They don’t. They try, but they don’t know every student. I guess what if one of those staff members or one of those students allows a gender dysphoric student to go into their non-biological bathroom and someone reports that? The superintendent is still responsible for that?
Rep Bentley: Yep. If a policy in place it’s them to implement that with their student, their teachers, and do whatever they deem necessary to teach them that policy.
Rep Garner: But they cannot know every student.
Rep Bentley: The teachers know every student. And I’m not gonna sit here and go into theoreticals, we can spend all day.
Rep Garner: [inaudible]
Rep Evans: Representative Garner, no debate.
Rep Bentley: We can spend all day on theoretical issues, and we are not gonna answer them all. The point is that teachers know their students, and they know who their students are. So the school can implement their policy, when I implement them with their policies for teachers. But it’s gonna be up to them to make sure the adults in the room do the right thing. So, thank you.
Rep Evans: Representative Long, you’re recognized.
Rep Long: [inaudible}
Rep Evans: If you’ll turn your mike on please? There you go.
Rep Long: Representative Bentley, I was contacted by 1 of my superintendents. I have 8 school districts in my house district. But the one that contacted me said that the association that represents superintendents had endorsed this bill. I just wondered if that was correct?
Rep Bentley: They have, and that’s why we did the amendment this morning to address their concerns. Thank you. They can speak for themselves, but they brought it to me and said they were supportive of the bill, they needed to make an adjustment. I made that adjustment last night at 6 o’clock to what they’d asked me.
Rep Evans: Representative McKenzie, you’re recognized.
Rep McKenzie: Thank you Mr. Speaker. So I had a question regarding the penalty that we, that was a part of the amendment as well as, and maybe for some clarity, on the cause for action. So the cause for action follows the school district whereas the penalty follows superintendents, principals or administrators. Has there been any additional thought as to why the cause for action was just for the school district as opposed to those same individuals? Or anyone, that is, violating any of the subsections of the cause for action. So a person that does walk into the bathroom that violates the multi-occupancy rule?
Rep Bentley: That would be up to the school, right, to set up what their policy, what their punishment is going to be for that.
Rep McKenzie: Okay, this counts.
Representative Bentley: So we tried to put the administration in charge of what they’re going to do in their building. They can set what their punishment would be for someone breaking their policy they set in place. This gives them the ability to set that policy in place, and each school district can do what they want to do as far as that goes for people under them. But we want to hold the administration accountable, like I said, and not the 5% to the student funding, but to the administrator and the principal. They can put their policies in place that they feel good with and help out their staff.
Rep McKenzie: Okay, thank you.
Rep Evans: Seeing no more questions. Miss Hargis, Dr. Naylor, thank you for your time today and your testimony. We’ll move now to for and against. Signed up first to speak against the bill, Lance LeVar? Lance, are you present? If you’ll go to the end of the table, please identify yourself for the record.
LeVar: I’m Lance LeVar; I’m here speaking as a private citizen on my own time. Lance Levar, speaking as a private citizen of my own time.
Rep Evans: Thank you, you’re recognized.
LeVar: God divided the light from the darkness yet we all accept there is dusk and there is dawn, where the light and the darkness result in a myriad of shades and colors. God divided the waters from the firmament, under the firmament and those above the firmament yet we see fog happening all the time. God’s let the water’s appear in the heaven gathered into one place, and dry land appeared. Yet I’ve never heard anyone argue that God made the land and the sea, not land and marsh or sea and swamp. And God made two great lights, the greater to rule the day and the lesser to rule the night, yet many days the moon is clearly out in the day. When does the Moon’s rule start and the Sun’s rule end? Let the waters bring forth moving creatures, let the fowl may fly above the Earth, let the Earth bring forth living creatures, frogs, salamanders. Anybody ever been turned into a newt and got better? How about flying squirrels, ostriches, emus, dodo? God created man in his own image, male and female created He them. Yet here we are to ignore the beauty of the rainbow that God put into every other day of creation. And accept this as stark contrast as the entire story. To the Dinah they are called the Nadlea other tribes have names for them but we can call them Twoscrah. In southeast Asia they are called[Heshra, in Samoa they refer to them as Fafatnee and Fafatomna. I speak of my transgender family and friends. They are as much a creation of God as the dusk, fog, swamp, daytime moon, and flying squirrels. Representative Bentley stated that this bill is not aimed at restricting restroom access for transgender children but to keep children safe from sexual assault and rape. I have worked in public K-12 and post-secondary education in some fashion for almost 30 decades. I’ve been a teacher, a building and a district administrator; I have never heard of an actual transgender youth assaulting or raping a student in the bathroom or changing room. Or a transgender youth who undressed and just wandered into open locations in that same area. Those who trusted me enough to discuss their struggles were the ones who hid in the corner, in the stall, until it was clear no one would see them changing before they’re in the bathroom. Whether they’re in the bathroom matching their sex assigned at birth, or their gender. I have heard of assault, rape and hazing, along with other bullying behavior in cis-gendered youth, like the one presented earlier who pretended to be transgender but was not. In the other state. Targeting other youth both cis- and transgender.
As a former band director I have never required anyone to room with anyone, they made the room selections. I assigned any leftover and allowed adjustments on requests. The overnight trips chronology of required rooms is a non-issue, except that many will use this law as cover to force students to room with people of their opposite gender. Thereby increasing the likelihood of bullying behaviors or assaults. This bill will also force anyone who has moved into a new school district after making a social transition to their proper gender to out themselves to everyone in the school by requiring them to use the wrong bathroom. Or the separate-but-equal one. If we want to protect students in bathrooms and locker rooms then put the budget surplus towards remodeling school bathrooms for real privacy for all. Move the sinks into the open space, replace the stalls with floor-to-ceiling walls, have doors open to the sink area. This would ensure that students do not have to be subject to any other student in a state of undress, of the same gender or not. And remove the ability of students to assault, harass, fight, smoke, etcetera with impunity. While we’re at it, provide the same privacy in the locker rooms of all sports. Create a spot where students can individually shower and dress, so adults can be in the common areas, regardless of gender, to prevent harassment, bullying, fighting, hazing, and sexual assault that is all too common in locker rooms.
The wealthiest people of Arkansas do not need a tax break, our children need privacy and safety. Our most vulnerable youth need to know the legislators see them as children of God and not political points. This spring I was part of an Arkansas delegation to visit Washington DC to speak to our Senators in support of the Represent the Respect for Marriage Act. The Equality and Fairness for All Americans Coalition, a religious organization, and LGBTQ groups, took us there. My international church leaders are partners in this organization. My spirit soared as I heard from leaders in the queer community lavish praise for the common – for the partnership they have with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in finding common ground in fighting for LGBTQ+ rights while protecting religious freedoms. We can find the same common ground in our work. To ensure the rights and protections of our transgender students by increasing the privacy and safety of all students in our schools. And as much as you have done it unto one of the least of these, let us join and lift our children together. Thank you.
Rep Evans: Any questions for the witness? Seeing none. Mr. LeVar, thank you for your testimony today. We’ll move now to Dr. Clayton Crockett. Representative Meeks, you’re recognized.
Rep Meeks: Thank you Mr. Chairman. Due to our limited time this morning I’d like to make a motion that we limit testimony to five minutes per witness.
Rep Evans: That is a proper motion. All those in favor say aye. Opposed nay. Motion passes. So, going forward each one giving testimony will be limited to five minutes, we will extend that time as well to the bill sponsor upon closure which will probably be sometime later this afternoon. Dr. Crockett, you’re recognized.
Crockett: Thank you, my name is Clayton Crockett, I’m here as a private citizen. I’m also the father of a trans student in Conway High School. I also reside in Conway, in the district that Representative Bentley represents. I’m here to speak against this bill. I’m also the parent of the child, the trans child, who went on the overnight school trip and this has already been brought up in this meeting. And I can tell you that she feels targeted, she feels discriminated against, she feels bullied, she feels singled out, she does not want to go to school. She is depressed, she – I can barely get her up every single day to get her to go to school. She was okay when it was a practice of using a single use bathroom, but when it became a policy, she felt singled out. She has been hospitalized, she has been institutionalized, she has had thoughts of self harm. She has had thoughts of suicide. She is being hurt by this. She is not able to function, she is not able to focus, she is not able to be educated which is what all of you said. And I’m not questioning your intentions, but I’m just telling you the effects on my child. That she is being hurt by this, she is being discriminated against and hurt by these bills and these policies and these laws.
And I can tell you, that for this overnight trip, that another student that she was going to room with did not show up. And then there was a question of who she was going to room with, and she said she didn’t care. And so then the person, the adult – teacher – sponsor asked around to find out who would room, because they didn’t have the capacity for an extra room just for her, and she was – and agreed to room with two – and two other people agreed to room with her. They were both fine. The teacher did not know, right, if there was a policy, asked what they should do, was told we don’t know, and then she roomed with these two other students. I later found out that one of these students was also going through gender dysphoria. I don’t know if identified as trans, but their parent found out, or parents found out and then raised the complaint. And this teacher was suspended, this teacher was investigated and my child was subjected to scrutiny, to questions, to discrimination, and to vile rumors that she had actually gotten into the bed with another student of her supposedly different biological sex and actually raped that student. This was disgusting to me and I was horrified.
I have stood up, I’ve spoken out against the Conway School Board on this. I’m here to stand up and speak out against this. You are correct, you are absolutely correct that at the current moment this bill does not violate Title IX. But the Title IX regulations have been revised and are being basically reconsidered and will probably be implemented in 2023-2024 school year and there’s a very good chance that this bill will be illegal once that happens. Because that expands and extends protection for antidiscrimination on the basis of gender and also sexual orientation. Finally, I know that you want to protect all students. I know that you want them to get the best education that they possibly can. I can tell you that my daughter is a National Merit Semi-finalist. She has been honored by this very same school that is targeting her. She has had her picture on a billboard, celebrating her accomplishment. She is applying to colleges, and she wants to leave the state of Arkansas as quickly as she can because of all of this. I can tell you that this, and like the previous speaker said, we have to care and think about the comfort, and the safety, and the feelings of the majority. But I also have to tell you that if a white student were to say I don’t feel comfortable sharing a bathroom with a non-white student, would you then discriminate against non-white students? This is what the whole civil-rights movement was about, and we’re fighting a new civil-rights movement. And we just want, and she just wants, to be recognized as a human being. So I’m speaking out very strongly against this, I oppose it with every fiber of my being. Thank you very much.
Rep Evans: Dr. Crockett, are you – will you take a question?
Rep Evans: Representative Flowers, you’re recognized.
Rep V Flowers: Just based on some of your testimony it sounded like, and I just wanted to clarify. Did your child already use the single use bathrooms? As a rule?
Crockett: Yes, as a practice. It wasn’t a rule, because –
Rep V Flowers: I mean for her?
Crockett: When she came out, this was during the summer of 2020 with the Covid, but then when she went back to school I think this was the Spring of 2021, she – my wife and I talked to the school principal and basically they accommodated her in terms of allowing her to use the single use bathroom. And that’s what she’s been doing, and she said she was okay. She wants to go under the radar, she does not want to be a part of this, she does not want to be the story, she does not want this attention. But she has been singled out, and she said she felt like when it was a practice it was one thing, but once it becomes a policy, once it becomes a bill, she feels targeted. She feels attacked for being trans, and that’s sort of the difference here, between a practice and a policy or a law.
Rep V Flowers: Thank you.
Rep Evans: Any other questions for Dr. Crockett? Seeing none. Sir, thank you for being here today.
Crockett: Thank you.
Rep Evans: We’ll move to Stephanie Gray. And to those speaking, what I’ll do going forward, if you start running, I’ll give you a notice when you are down to one minute.
Gray: Thank you, my former debate experience really appreciates a time check.
Rep Evans: If you’ll recognize yourself, you may proceed.
Gray: Thank you Chair. My name is Stephanie Gray, I’m a resident of Conway, I’m an educator, a scholar, a mentor for children and a consultant. I’m also the president of the Board of the Faulkner County Coalition for Social Justice. And I’ve worked with LGBT youth for over a decade. In my career, I work with religious organizations in schools to work to make their spaces safer, more respectful, and more equitable while also paying attention to anti-abuse and harassment. I help these organizations best be able to live their values, and learn to adapt when the intent of their work or their policies don’t always match the impact. And I think that’s what we are seeing here with this bill. In my own personal experience with the Conway School Board and Conway Schools, and even with this bill, I am hearing that this is not meant to make trans students feel discriminated against. And yet, we are hearing over and over and over again that that is what trans students are feeling. So I have to question what is the choice that this committee is going to make when sometimes the intent of this bill is not what the impact is going to be? And I also want to look at the values of this legislator – legislation. In Article 2 of the Arkansas Constitution it says that all are created equally free and independent, have certain inherent and inalienable rights, and they also can pursue their own happiness.
And it also states that no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious establishment, denomination, or mode of worship above any other. I do not believe that this bill upholds these values. This bill is held together by discriminatory and ultimately a Christian doctrine that does not belong in this Capitol building. This is a waste of the building’s time, and our taxpayer dollars. Again, as Dr. Crockett said earlier, and our school board members said earlier, this is already in place in Conway. And I have had transgender and gender non-conforming students cry in my arms because of this policy. That they do not feel safe in schools, that they don’t even want to go to school at all. And I think that our school is failing our students. And I think that why, as, I think, Representative Garner was getting at, if this is not something that is going to benefit all schools why is this happening in this Committee? And I hear, and I am wanting to listen, that parents feel scared. And I also know that fear-mongering does not make students safe.
Part of my career is actually looking at what prevents abuse, what prevents harassment. And policies like this do nothing to actually do anything to deter situations like Linda Hargis was talking about earlier. I also want to point out that trans students are not inherently predatory. By being trans that does not increase the likelihood that you will attack someone in a bathroom. We can make our schools safer by what our first speaker was talking about in terms of infrastructure. I can also make our schools safer by teaching comprehensive sex education. By implementing best practices, so students can learn what consent is. We can also have guidelines for all of the students to follow, not just pinpointing what specific students we want to follow particular policies. A policy like 1156 does nothing to keep our students safe, and the evidence is overwhelming across the country that policies like this actually have not deterred abuse and harassment in our schools. Everyone has the right to feel safe and comfortable. Not just cis-gendered students. And I feel what is happening in this committee is prioritizing one group of students over the other. Instead of acting out of fear, distrust and intolerance, we can teach our students, and the adults in this room, how to be curious, compassionate, and tolerant of those who are different than them.
Rep Evans: You have 1 minute.
Gray: Children want to love one another. It is their natural state of being. It is only when they’re taught from adults that they believe that this is wrong. This bill teaches students to ostracize their peers and for teachers to separate their students based on identity. I also want to speak as a trans person of faith, my tradition teaches me that I am not alone, that there are more genders than we can count. That my body is holy just as it is, and every trans person in Arkansas is holy. And regardless of what happens with this bill, we will still be here. There will still be trans kids thriving and changing this world. And as my Jewish ancestors have taught me, we will outlive them, and as my trans siblings have taught me, we will out love you. Thank you. Chair, I’ll be open to any questions.
Rep Evans: Thank you for your testimony. Any questions? Seeing none. Thank you. Next, and this will probably be our last testimony before we go into recess, Reverend Marie O’Connell? If you’ll state your name for the record and then you may begin.
O’Connell: My name is Reverend Marie Maynard O’Connell. I’m a clergy person, a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church USA. I’m currently serving as an interim pastor of adult education at Second Presbyterian Church. More importantly, I’m also the parent of a trans child in the Little Rock school district. They were not able to be here today because they had a test. And so they gave me some words that they’d like me to share. I am aware though that as a clergy person, people will wonder how can you have both these realities true at the same time. And I don’t go back to Genesis or Leviticus, I turn to the New Testament. The words of Jesus and Paul, that in Christ there is no male or female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, and that we are called to love one another. I think everybody in the room probably has heard that. My concerns about this particular bill are in reasonable accommodations. And that’s the concern that my child shares as well. My child, as a personal practice, tends to use single-use restrooms, but has already experienced other students following them to restrooms to find out their real gender. And this kind of social attack, it’s hard to think about as a parent when you can do absolutely nothing about that moment. Knowing that this bill would require my student to use single restrooms, I think, as the parent ahead of me already said, would further single them out.
I want to share what my student had to say: “My school only has one single stall restroom available for students, and it is in the nurse’s office. And permission is needed to use it. It is not meant for me but for sick kids who need it, not the many trans people that will need it when this bill passes. There are many more trans people in this state than you think, and there are over 100, I believe, in my small school alone. This bill includes locker rooms. My gym is on the opposite side of the school from the nurse, and there are no changing facilities that would allow for trans kids there. My school does not have the funding to build new facilities for trans people. Nowhere in this bill does it say that you will provide funding to build them. All it says is provide reasonable accommodation, and suggests the nurse’s office. This bill will decrease funding for schools that don’t comply. Puberty blockers and hormone replacement therapy must be taken into account. There are highschool students who are over 18. A medical transition has already begun. Some trans people don’t look like their birth gender and forcing them to go into a room with cis-people would make them both uncomfortable. This bill will out trans people, who are perceived already as cisgender, and could endanger them. Bathrooms are already scary and hard.” And the final card simply says “Trans people are also your citizens”.
As a parent, I would ask that we table or defer this bill for further amendments. This bill has already had two massive amendments, and it requires further for it to come anywhere close what I think this body would be comfortable passing. I would almost agree that if we had the facilities and the funding for enough single-stall restrooms, it might be permissible. Even if the bill included a amendment that there would a single-stall restroom within 50 or 100 feet. But I think we all know that we don’t want to spend money on our schools in that way. And so, it is my belief that this is not only morally reprehensible, it’s not the right decision for our state at this time. I would ask you to not pass this bill. Thank you.
Rep Evans: Rev. O’Connell, are you open to questions?
O’Connell: I am.
Rep Evans: Okay, anyone have questions for Reverend O’Connell? Seeing none. Thank you for your testimony today. Members, as I’d mentioned at the beginning of the meeting, the full House must convene at 11am today. So we are going to go into recess. This committee will convene upon adjournment of the full House. If you are currently signed up on the sheet to speak for or against, we will pick back up in the order that you are signed up. There will be an additional sheet that we’ve placed outside the door. If anyone wants – has not previously signed up and would like to sign up to speak for or against, I would ask you to please take a moment and get your name on the list. With that, we are in recess.