Update: The bill has passed the House Civil Justice Subcommittee on a 9-5 vote. The majority of the votes came from House Republicans.
Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant released the following statement:
"I was appalled today as I watched Florida Republicans stand united to write discrimination into law. Frank Artiles' bill is a mean spirited attempt to bully Floridians, and places an undue burden on our businesses. This is a bigoted solution in search of a problem, and the Florida GOP should be ashamed of themselves."
Original post: If you're transgender, you could end up doing serious jail time for using a public restroom in Florida. So says a new bill being introduced in the legislature this week. The bill, by Rep. Frank Artiles, proposes a measure that would have a person be thrown in jail for a least a year for using a public restroom that doesn't match his or her gender. LGBT advocates are decrying the bill as discriminatory toward transgender people and gender nonconforming people. Artiles calls the bill a public safety measure.
"Clearly this bill is meant to primarily attack trans people -- a community that already faces extreme amounts of harassment and discrimination in the workplace, in schools, on the streets -- and, in bathrooms," ALCU spokesman Anthony Romero said in a statement. "This bill makes harassment and discrimination the government's job."
Specifically, House Bill 583 would require people using single-sex public restrooms to have to prove their gender or face arrest. It would prohibit a person who knowingly and willfully enters a single-sex public restroom "designated for or restricted to persons of other biological sex," according to HB 583. According to the bill's synopsis, the measure would provide private cause of action against violators.
As a public safety measure, the bill looks to protect people.
"Single-sex public facilities are places of increased vulnerability and present the potential for crimes against individuals using those facilities, including, but not limited to, assault, battery, molestation, rape, voyeurism, and exhibitionism," the bill reads.
While that's reasonable enough, LGBT activists are pointing to specific wording in the bill that focuses on transgender people.
"'Sex' means a person's biological sex, either male or female, at birth. For purposes of this paragraph, the term 'male' means a person born as a biological male and the term 'female' means a person born as a biological female," the bill says. It goes on to say, "a person who knowingly and willfully enters a single-sex public facility designated for or restricted to persons of the other biological sex commits a misdemeanor of the first degree."
"It's dehumanizing," Gina Duncan, a transgender woman who works with the advocacy group TransAction Florida, says via a news release. "This bill invents a problem that simply doesn't exist. Transgender people need to use the restroom the same as anyone. If anything, we want and need to be protected from undue attention and harassment -- not be told we're committing a crime if someone thinks we're in the wrong place."
The bill also has monetary incentives attached to it for anyone who reports someone using the wrong restroom. A person at a business or school can collect a financial award if they report a person in a public single-sex restroom who shouldn't have been there.
Equality Florida calls the bill, which had its first reading on Tuesday night, discriminatory against transgender employees and customers of businesses and an opportunity for transgender people to be harassed
"This poorly written bill is a lawsuit factory," said Nadine Smith, CEO of Equality Florida in a statement. "How could it possibly be enforced except as an invitation to harass people in the bathroom -- with a financial incentive attached!"
For the bill to reach the house floor, it will have to get through at least least three subcommittees. HB 583 will first be considered by the house civil justice subcommittee on Wednesday afternoon.
For now, LGBT activist groups are taking measures to make sure the bill dies.
On Wednesday morning, Equality Florida and TransAction Florida, along with State Rep. Janet Cruz, will hold a news conference in Tallahassee to discuss the bill.
ACLU Florida has begun a petition to have the bill stopped.