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Frank Artiles admits his ‘bathroom bill’ is still a work in progress as it advances

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According to Miami state House Republican Frank Artiles, the only reason he has introduced his legislation that would stop transgender people from using public restrooms aligned with their gender identity is because Miami-Dade County commissioners wouldn’t change their own ordinance.

“I am here because the Miami-Dade ordinance is overbroad and subjective,” he told lawmakers today. He says that while there are 10 counties in Florida that have gender identity protections (including Hillsborough and Pinellas), only Miami-Dade allows men to enter women’s locker rooms, dressing rooms or bathrooms.

His bill passed the House Government Operations Subcommittee on Tuesday morning, but whether it will ever make it to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk remains questionable.

Artiles’ legislation has caused a firestorm around the state and around the country, as more than 70 people initially signed up to speak for or against his legislation this morning.

Many speakers said this would only harm the transgender community, and that it would be impossible to enforce.

“This is completely unnecessary and unenforceable,” said Jessica Osborn, who calls herself gender fluid. She said she is female, but has been asked in the past to leave a female bathroom. “It would be dangerous for me to enter a men’s bathroom.”

Nadine Smith from Equality Florida said self-policing was a problem. “Now you look around this room. If you were told you must decide which restroom each person goes to? You’re going to get it wrong. Because that idea is what this bill insists we do.”

Articles admits that enforceability would be problematic. “The reality is that there is no bathroom police, there’s nobody who’s going to check ID’s. This is self-policing.” The legislation currently would subject businesses to fines if a citizen complains about an issue in a restroom. “I do not want to fine businesses,” he admitted.

“I’m not showing my drivers license,” declared Nick Youngblood from Tampa.

That’s violating my privacy,” Youngblood added. “My birth name, Nicole, is still on my drivers license. That subjects me to violence.” And Youngblood said that such legislation segregates trans people into a specific group. “Nobody wakes up and decides they’re transgender. Nobody wakes up to do this.”

Roxanne Manzoni from Ocala specifically addressed the Republicans on the committee, saying that the bill circumvents basic conservative tenets such as personal responsibility, an aversion to big government, adding burdens to businesses and creating more needless lawsuits. “If you’re Republicans, you must vote against this bill,” she said.

Although there weren’t nearly as many members of the public who spoke out in support of the bill, concerns about the current law in Miami were expressed.

“We need this legislation. This is about privacy. This is about dignity,” called out Anthony Verdugo, executive director of the Christian Family Coalition.

John Stemberger from the Florida Family Council said he was quoting U.S. Census figures when he said that heterosexuals were 96 percent of the population. “It’s clear that people who cross dress, are transgendered or have gender confusion issues, experience discomfort, inconvenience and awkwardness. What you have to do is weigh that against the awkwardness, the inconvenience and the embarrassment of the rest of society.”

Artiles introduced a new amendment to the legislation before debate began on it. It would exempt sports reporters, allowing them to enter locker rooms after sporting contests.

One Republican on the committee, Port Charlotte state Rep. Ken Roberson, opposed the bill when it came up for a vote. He said there were too many unintended consequences to the legislation, questioned how it would be enforced. He said it would be opening up “Pandora’s Box” when it comes to frivolous lawsuits. And he wondered why neither the Florida Sheriffs Association, nor the Florida Police Chiefs have yet to weigh in with the committee.

“I don’t think it’s a statewide issue,” he said. “I think it’s a Miami-Dade issue that ought to be decided in Miami-Dade.”

Kissimmee Democrat John Cortes lambasted the bill as a “complete waste of time.”

When it came to defend his bill after nearly two hours of testimony, Rep. Artiles took a shot at all those who claim the bill is discriminatory, saying that under Title VII, gender identity is not a protected class. “There is no such thing.”

He then said that “Out of 19 million people, less than one percent is dictating policy throughout the state in reference to who uses bathrooms because we have to cater…to their loud voice, but very small minority.”

And he confessed that the bill isn’t even completely formed yet. “This is a bill in progress,” he said, asking for more time to improve it.

The bill has now passed favorably through two committees. It has one more to go before the House floor. But there has been little movement on similar legislation in the Senate.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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