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S.C. Bill Would Bar Requiring Transgender Choice of Bathrooms

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A South Carolina senator wants to bar local governments from requiring businesses to let transgender people use the bathroom of their choice, saying he's taking a "stand for decency and common sense."

The bill introduced Wednesday by Sen. Lee Bright would also require multistall bathrooms on public property to be designated and used "based on biological sex." It specifically includes student bathrooms, locker rooms and shower rooms in public schools.

How private businesses handle their bathrooms should be up to the owners, not government, he said.

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Bright knows of no city in South Carolina where that's an issue, but he supports a North Carolina law that prohibits local communities from enacting anti-discrimination ordinances and requires transgender people to use public bathrooms that match their sex at birth. That law has drawn national backlash and prompted PayPal to announce Tuesday that it will cancel a major expansion in the state.

"We keep talking about tolerance, tolerance, tolerance," said Bright, R-Roebuck. "I stand with our neighbors to the north and stand for decency and common sense. It's a public safety issue. We don't need men going into a women's bathroom."

Image: Sen. Lee Bright
Sens. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, right, and Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, left, listen in the Senate chambers during the first day of legislative session at the Statehouse Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016, in Columbia, S.C. Sean Rayford / AP, file

Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Columbia, said the proposal is ridiculous, unnecessary and can hurt the state financially.

"I can see no logistical reason why we would entertain such a measure," he said.

GOP Gov. Nikki Haley agreed that there's no need.

"In South Carolina, we are blessed because we don't have to mandate respect or kindness or responsibility in this state," she said. "I don't know of any example that we've had a problem."

Asked if Gov. Pat McCrory was right to sign the measure, Haley said, "I think the governor of North Carolina had to do what he thought was right."

Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin supports the bill, saying he doesn't want "cross-dressers" going into a bathroom with his granddaughters. Businesses can best accommodate people by having single-occupancy, unisex bathrooms, he said.

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He said it's not about discrimination.

"I don't care what your sexual persuasion is. I don't want children exposed to folks who don't know their identity," said Martin, R-Pickens.

But he said time constraints make it unlikely for the measure to pass this year. A May 1 deadline for bills to move from one chamber to the other looms.

But he said time constraints make it unlikely for the measure to pass this year. A May 1 deadline for bills to move from one chamber to the other looms.

The South Carolina bill was sent to the committee chaired by Sen. Kevin Bryant, who also signed on as a co-sponsor. He was optimistic about the bill's chances.

"I'm going to focus on the free-market approach," said Bryant, R-Anderson. "It's not the government's role to tell businesses how to configure their bathrooms."

House Speaker Jay Lucas' office declined to weigh in on the bill's chances in that chamber.