Governor signs controversial ‘bathroom’ bill after heated debate in SenateFeb 01, 2024 10:06AM ● By Becky Ginos
Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, sponsored HB257. The bill passed and the Governor signed it on Tuesday. Photos by Roger V . Tuttle
UTAH STATE CAPITOL—Probably one of the most hotly contested bills, HB257, dubbed the “bathroom” bill passed the Senate last week after a lively debate and was signed by Gov. Spencer Cox on Tuesday. Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, sponsored the bill and has taken a lot of heat over it.
HB257 Sex-based Designation for Privacy, Anti-Bullying, and Women’s Opportunities prevents individuals from using a gender-specific bathroom in government-owned buildings that is different from their biological sex unless their sex has been legally changed on a birth certificate or they have had gender-related surgery. There were several tweaks to the bill before it was passed last week in the Senate 20-8.
Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Dist. 10, spoke against the bill before the vote was taken. “We all want a place that’s safe,” she said. “Transgender people are not protected. This doesn’t help a child who has to go to a special place. It points it out. We don’t want to see kids pushed toward that.”
Women’s restrooms have individual stalls, she said. “You don’t see anyone’s genitals.”
Following floor time, Escamilla and a group of other Democrats all dressed in black held a press conference to discuss the bill. “We’re in black to show that we’re hurting for a marginalized community,” Escamilla said. “We stand together as a group to keep fighting. This is an attack on the transgender community.”
A large portion of the state wants to protect marginalized children, she said. “We’re sending the wrong message. The Governor has the power to veto this bill and answer the questions surrounding it.”
Escamilla said Democrats will come back in the interim to challenge the bill. “You have the ability to change who is in office. I call upon all Utahns to say enough is enough.”
The vast majority of Utahns are not aware of the magnitude of this bill, she said. “Communities of color, LGBTQ and others who are marginalized – we will be your voice. Stand with us to make sure you are not erased and your story is not being told.”
Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, was one of only two Republicans who voted against the bill.
“My constituent response was 10-1 against the bill,” he said. “The bill they (Senate) settled on was better than the one the House passed.”
In some cases, transgender people living outside of Utah can’t change their birth certificates, said Weiler. “I’m concerned about its constitutionality. I’m afraid we’ll spend a lot of money in court. The transgender sport bill we passed two years ago hasn’t fully gone into effect because it has been enjoined and the same with the trigger bill on abortion from last year.”
Weiler said he doesn’t want to see a biological man in the locker room with his wife or daughter. “But if the bill is enjoined it’s not going to fix that.”
The changes to the bill were good, he said. “It made it much better but I still felt like it wouldn’t accomplish much if it is enjoined by the court. It’s a divisive issue.”