Knoxville News Sentinel  Humphrey on the Hill



Restroom regulation scuttled by state representative

Legislative Notebook: Bathrooms, subpoenas and redistricting votes

By Tom Humphrey

Originally published 04:00 a.m., January 17, 2012
Updated 06:28 a.m., January 17, 2012


NASHVILLE A bill to penalize people who visit the wrong public restroom was both introduced and withdrawn in the Legislature last week, creating some controversy in the process.

Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, told Nashville's WTVF-TV that he introduced HB2279 after reading news reports of a department store sales clerk being fired in another state for telling a transgender person who was "very much a man" to leave a women's dressing room.

"I just do not want the same sort of thing happening in Tennessee," he said, adding that he believes "society is on the slippery slope to depravity" and the bill would help average citizens avoid being forced to "go along with the perverted way of thinking" promoted by a few people.

The bill would make it a misdemeanor crime, punishable by a $50 fine, to use a public bathroom or dressing room "designated for one particular sex" if not a member of that designated sex. The word "sex" is defined in the bill as "the designation of an individual person as male or female as indicated on the individual's birth certificate."

The measure caused a stir on blogs around the nation after the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition sent out a news release declaring "the bathroom harassment act" to be a direct attack on "the transgender community" that would also affect many others, including plumbers, cleaning personnel and others who work in restrooms as well as parents taking their young children into a facility.

The release also questioned how the measure would be enforced, given that few people carry a birth certificate to visit restrooms.

Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, told the Chattanooga Times-Free Press that he signed to sponsor the bill in the Senate at Floyd's request as a courtesy without becoming familiar with what the bill did. He changed his mind after learning about the legislation.

"I understand Rep. Floyd's passion about the issue, but we have more pressing issues before us that we need to focus our attention on and we don't need to get sidetracked," Watson said.

Watson, who filed the bill with Floyd on Jan. 9, withdrew it on Thursday. Because a bill must pass both the House and Senate with a sponsor from each chamber, the move effectively kills the bill unless another senator steps in as sponsor. None had done so on Friday.

shipley wants records

State Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, wants to have a legislative committee subpoena records of a TBI investigation into whether he or Rep. Dale Ford, R-Jonesborough, broke any laws in working to reinstate the licenses of three Northeast Tennessee nurses.

District Attorney General Torry Johnson of Nashville, who sought the investigation, recently announced it shows the lawmakers engaged in "political hardball" but no criminal wrongdoing in getting the state Board of Nursing to reverse its original punishment of the nurses.

"We're going to use the authority of the Legislature to find out how this happened," Shipley said in an interview. "They say we were heavy-handed? Well, what are we here for except to oversee the bureaucracy?"

Shipley, who is a member of the House Government Operations Committee and chairman of a subcommittee with oversight over the Board of Nursing and other health-related boards, said legislative hearings and a review of investigation records would provide that accountability.

Ford and Shipley both say they did nothing inappropriate in trying to perform traditional legislative duties of helping constituents, who they believe were wrongly accused. Shipley said the "foolish" TBI investigation appears to have been triggered by someone wanting to punish the legislators.

"It obviously was a political shot. It missed," Shipley said. "If somebody took an action designed to intimidate me, they messed up."

There may have been a crime committed that led to the investigation, he said, since making a false report to a district attorney general is a felony.

The lawmaker said he will consult with legislative leadership and, he hopes, obtain their consent to conduct hearings and issue subpoenas perhaps including one to District Attorney Johnson.

Legislative committees do have subpoena authority under state law, but it has rarely been used.


House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey both made a point of declaring "bipartisan support" for the legislative redistricting bills that won final passage on Friday.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner and Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle made a point of saying their "yes" votes were based on a deal. Basically, they agreed to go along with the bills even though disliking several aspects in exchange for Republicans accepting last-minute revisions that benefited some Democrats without harming any Republicans.

The final vote on the state House redistricting bill HB1555 was 67-25-3 in the House; 23-10 in the Senate. Seven Democrats, including Turner, voted for the bill in the House. Three backed it in the Senate. There were no Republicans voting against it, but two were officially "present but not voting."

The final vote on the state Senate redistricting bill SB1514 was 21-12 in the Senate and 60-29-1 in the House. Three Democrats, including Kyle, voted yes in the Senate while two Republicans Sens. Mae Beavers of Mount Juliet and Kerry Roberts of Springfield, who lost his seat in the plan voted no. Five Democrats, not including Turner, voted for the bill in the House.

The final vote on the congressional redistricting bill HB1558 was 68-25 in the House and 24-9 in the Senate. Four Democratic senators notably including Sen. Eric Stewart of Winchester, who is running for Congress voted yes. So did seven House Democrats.