Even as transgender-rights supporters cheered the surprise defeat of a bill to roll back a rule assuring transgender bathroom access, opponents began talk about taking the issue to the ballot box.
OLYMPIA — After the surprise defeat of a bill to roll back a rule guaranteeing transgender bathroom access, Democratic state Sen. Marko Liias described his relief in five words: “So we dodged a bullet.”
But even as Democrats and transgender advocates cheered the failure Wednesday of Senate Bill 6443, the Republican-sponsored bill’s supporters began talk about taking the issue to the ballot box.
“There will be an initiative filed to overturn this rule,” Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale and the bill’s sponsor, wrote Thursday on his Facebook page.
The vote and ensuing debate comes after a recent regulation by the state Human Rights Commission that guarantees access to restrooms, locker rooms, and other such facilities according to a person’s gender identity.
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The rule — which the commission has said is not new, but a clarification of state law — affects public and private buildings, including schools, restaurants, stores and most places of employment.
While some see restroom access for transgender people as a civil-rights issue similar to same-sex marriage, others see it as political correctness run amok or a potential threat to women and children by sex offenders.
SB 6443 would have gotten rid of the commission’s rule. But the bill suffered an unusual defeat on the Senate floor, where proposals often come up only if they have enough votes to pass.
In this case, three Republican senators — Joe Fain, Andy Hill and Steve Litzow — voted against the bill. One Democrat, Sen. Jim Hargrove of Hoquiam, voted for it.
At this point, details are hazy on what a voter initiative might try to do and whether it would even go forward.
In an interview, Ericksen said some groups are working on it, though he didn’t know what a measure might propose. But “I imagine the initiative would probably be larger” in scope than SB 6443, he said.
Danille Turissini, statewide grass roots director for the Family Policy Institute of Washington (FPIW), one of the organizations that testified in favor of Ericksen’s bill, said her organization is involved in considering an initiative.
“FPIW is part of conversations but nothing has been finalized yet,” Turissini wrote in an email.
Angela Connelly of Washington Women’s Network wrote in an email that, “There is some discussion and conversation happening but nothing definite at this point.”
In an email, Danni Askini, executive director of the Gender Justice League, wrote she was disappointed about the idea of “a divisive initiative on the essential civil rights of transgender Washingtonians.”
Any initiative to weaken civil rights laws for the LGBT community would draw “vigorous opposition” from Democrats, wrote Jamal Raad, spokesman for the Washington State Democratic Party, in an email.
“Discrimination against the transgender community is just plain wrong,” wrote Raad, “and you can expect our party to oppose any such initiative.”