IOWA LEGISLATURE

Transgender bathroom bill unlikely to advance, key Iowa lawmaker says

People march in support of transgender rights March 5, 2017, on the Ped Mall in Iowa City. The chairman of the Iowa Hous
People march in support of transgender rights March 5, 2017, on the Ped Mall in Iowa City. The chairman of the Iowa House Education Committee said Friday he doesn’t plan to advance the so-called transgender bathroom bill. (The Gazette)
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JOHNSTON — Legislative proposals to bar transgender Iowa students from using bathrooms that match their gender identity appear unlikely to advance in the Iowa House.

Republicans in the Iowa Senate recently advanced such a bill, Senate File 224, through its first step in the legislative process.

But Rep. Dustin Hite, chairman of the Iowa House Education Committee, said Friday he has no plans to give the bill — or ones like it — a hearing in the House.

“The reason I haven’t assigned them a subcommittee is not because I don’t understand the issues of the proponents of those bills, but I also understand the issues on the other sides of those bills,” the New Sharon Republican said at the Friday taping of “Iowa Press” at Iowa PBS studios in Johnston.

“And I think when we talk about topics like this, we have to be extremely careful that what we are doing does not come across as hateful,” he said. “And that is what I’m always concerned about in these particular issues.”

Asked if the proposal would receive a hearing in the education committee he leads, Hite all but eliminated any possibility.

“Those bills have not been assigned a subcommittee in my committee, and I don’t necessarily believe that that’s probably going to happen any time soon, if ever, this session,” he said.

For years, some conservatives have pushed for laws that would ban transgender men and boys from using men’s restrooms and transgender women and girls from using women’s restrooms. They typically argue safety as their concern.

Iowa Safe Schools, a nonprofit LGBTQ advocacy organization, said there have been no reported instances of inappropriate behavior by transgender Iowans in public restrooms since 2007, when Iowa’s Civil Rights Act was expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

“We applaud Rep. Hite for taking a stand for a safe and inclusive Iowa for everyone,” Iowa Safe Schools interim executive director Becky Ritland said in a statement. “The rights of LGBTQ Iowans are not a partisan issue, and we look forward to continuing our work across the aisle to ensure that every elected official fully embodies what it means to be Iowa nice.”

During an education-themed “Iowa Press,” show, Hite and fellow guest Rep. Ras Smith, the top Democrat on the House Education Committee, discussed the myriad public education bills moving through the Iowa Legislature.

One of those bills would ban K-12 schools from using curriculum based on the 1619 Project, which examines the impact of slavery on American history.

Some historians claim the project has historical inaccuracies and question some of the theories presented, and some conservatives take issue with the project’s framing of the role slavery played in the founding of the U.S.

Hite did not say whether he will hold a hearing on the bill.

“Several prominent, including left-leaning, historians have come out and said this is just bad history,” Hite said. “And to use it as the history curriculum, I think that is the concern that we’re hearing.

“Now, to Rep. Smith’s point, there is also concern that us dictating what schools should and should not teach maybe starts to get out of line.”

To watch

“Iowa Press” airs on Iowa PBS at 7:30 p.m. Friday and at noon Sunday; at 8:30 a.m. Saturday on PBS Word; or online at IowaPBS.org/iowapress.

Comments: (563) 333-2659; erin.murphy@lee.net

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