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House passes gender-neutral bathroom bill over Republican concerns that one Democrat dubbed ‘transphobic’

The measure was backed by LGBTQ advocates, but state Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, said she was looking to the many businesses that want to have multi-stall gender neutral bathrooms “either because their patrons or their employees have asked for it. But our laws don’t allow it.”

State Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville.
State Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville.
From Facebook

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois House has passed a bill that would allow businesses to offer multi-occupancy restrooms inclusive to all genders, a measure that the bill’s sponsor said was designed to allow caregivers to help those who need assistance.

But a Republican legislator cast the bill sent to the state Senate late Thursday as the first step in requiring special bathrooms to benefit transgender patrons, which he argued would be unsafe for others.

The measure was backed by LGBTQ advocates, but state Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, said she was looking to the many businesses that want to have multi-stall gender neutral bathrooms “either because their patrons or their employees have asked for it. But our laws don’t allow it.”

“This bill is really about when you have a caregiver that’s an opposite gender, that they can now go in with their loved one such as a mother can go in with a son and help in the restroom,” she told the Sun-Times on Friday. “And we’re talking about a normal bodily function, a human bodily function. That’s all we’re talking about.”

But state Rep. Tom Morrison said the bill would make women feel unsafe while sharing a restroom with transgender women.

“Once [a woman] exits a stall she could be in this very vulnerable position with somebody who may or may not pass as female,” the Palatine Republican said during floor debate on Thursday. “What’s happening is little by little these private spaces are being eliminated, and who’s ultimately hurt by this is women and girls.”

State Rep. Tom Morrison, R-Palatine, in 2018.
State Rep. Tom Morrison, R-Palatine, in 2018.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

He also argued that bill would lead to such bathrooms being mandatory, rather than optional.

“They start with ‘may,’ but expect this to be a ‘shall’ at some point,” he said.

Morrison listed several examples of male sexual predation in women’s bathrooms, saying Stuart’s bill “sets up that situation.”

In an interview with the Sun-Times on Friday, Stuart called Morrison’s comments “clearly transphobic.”

She argues that her bill doesn’t have anything to do with transgender Illinoisans. Residents of the state can already use the restroom for the gender with which they identify.

State Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville.
State Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville.
From Facebook.

A spokesperson for Equality Illinois, an LGBTQ advocacy group pushing the bill, called Morrison’s remarks a “distraction that shows he wants a license to discriminate in state law.”

“There’s been a lot of national legislation recently really targeting transgender individuals, and trans youth in particular. Tom Morrison has been the face of that effort in Illinois,” said Mike Ziri, the group’s spokesperson. “But what he doesn’t understand is that in Illinois our state values are justice, equality, inclusion, and the freedom to be who you are without discrimination.”

Earlier this month, Arkansas enacted a law banning physicians from providing gender- affirming hormone treatments to trans youth and another banning trans kids from participating in school sports. In 2019, Morrison introduced similar legislation in Illinois.

Stuart’s bathroom bill passed late Thursday on a vote of 63 to 43, along party lines and now goes to the state Senate.

On Friday, the House passed a bill mandating that the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency ensure lead is removed from the state’s drinking water, despite Republican concerns the initiative could not be paid for.

“There is no safe level of lead in our state,” said state Rep. Lamont Robinson Jr., D-Chicago, the bill’s sponsor. “Everyone should be able to drink clean water without any issue and no matter what financial capabilities you have.”

State Rep. Lamont J. Robinson, D-Chicago.
State Rep. Lamont J. Robinson, D-Chicago.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

Republicans contended the measure would be funded by a fee on community water suppliers.

“I know my local utilities could not pay for this, and I’m 20 times smaller than the community you come from, so I am skeptical about the ability of us to be able to pay for this,” said state Rep. Steven Reick, R-Woodstock.

Robinson said that the consequences for “Black and Brown communities and particularly our youth” outweighed the Republicans’ fiscal concerns.

The bill passed the chamber in a 76 to 31 vote and moves to the Senate.

Other House bills passed Friday would raise from $9 to $18 a fee collected from homebuyers to support state-assisted housing, allow pregnant women in their third trimester to obtain temporary disability placards for their cars, and ban the use of some time outs and physical restraints in public schools.

On Thursday, a House Committee advanced a bill requiring potential gun owners to submit fingerprints to obtain a Firearm Owner Identification Card, after including provisions from a similar bill backed by the Illinois State Police, which oversees the FOID program.

The original bill would require background checks for private, in-person sales of firearms, fingerprints for a FOID card, and increase fees for that application.

The new provisions of the bill include the option of an electronic FOID and Concealed Carry License, a single application for those licenses, and the creation of a portal for state police to make sure persons with revoked FOID cards do not have access to firearms.

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Kathleen Willis of Addison, said that she had been “happy to incorporate the common sense ideas” of the other bill.

State Rep. Kathleen Willis, D-Addison.
State Rep. Kathleen Willis, D-Addison.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Illinois State Police Director Brendon Kelly spoke in favor of the legislation at the committee hearing, saying that the bill would alleviate “gaps in state record systems” and allow his agency to have “precise information to zero in on somebody who we all agree should not have a firearm.”

Kelly noted that the state police did not support provisions of the bill that would increase fees on FOID applicants or require those licenses to be renewed every five years instead of ten.

A representative from the Illinois State Rifle Association also took issue with those provisions, saying they would increase the cost of a FOID card by more than 300%.