Signatures put a hold on Co-ed Bathroom bill

LGBT rights
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San Benito County Fair

Following the August passage of the Co-ed Bathroom bill – the first of its kind in the nation – more than 600,000 signatures flooded into the California Secretary of State’s office, asking for the lawmaker-approved bill to go before California citizens for a vote.
Known formerly as Assembly Bill 1266, the law allows transgender students to pick school restrooms, locker rooms and athletic teams based on the gender they identify with, instead of the one listed on their birth certificate. The legislation was authored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown. It was scheduled to go into effect Wednesday, but didn’t after hundreds of thousands of Californians signed a petition against it.
The 600,000-plus signatures are the first step in a referendum challenge that could stall or ultimately repeal the law. County registrars must verify at least 504,760 signatures – or 5 percent of the votes cast for Governor candidates in the last gubernatorial election – in order to place the issue on a ballot, according to the California Secretary of State’s website.
To verify signatures, county officials randomly check names on the petition to ensure the petition was signed by registered voters. Counties have 30 working days to complete a random sample of 3 percent or 500 signatures – whichever is greater – and to report their results to the Secretary of State. Depending on the results of the random sample, the bill may qualify directly for ballot, be rejected from the ballot, or county officials may be required to check every signature on the petition and report the results to the Secretary of State.
The referendum process exists thanks to the California Constitution, which declares voters have a right to approve or reject laws, unless the laws call elections, taxes, or appropriations for usual state expenses, or are “urgency statues,” which are approved by a two-thirds majority in each house of the Legislature, and take effect immediately after the Governor signs them.
The Co-ed Bathroom bill advanced from both houses of the Legislature on largely party-line votes. The bill also received support from the state’s two major teachers unions, the San Francisco and Los Angeles school districts, as well as the California State PTA.
A referendum brings the decision-making power back to the state’s registered voters.
“The voters are essentially part of the legislative process,” said Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, a nonprofit legal defense organization that specializes in religious freedom, parental rights and other civil liberties. “Through the referendum, they either approve or veto the law.”
Locally, the bill caused school administrators, staff and faculty to discuss how they would adjust to the changes – including whether transgender students would want to use restrooms that differ from the genders on their birth certificates.
“The law says they are permitted to, but they may not want to,” said Interim Superintendent Steve Betando of the Morgan Hill Unified School District, in an interview last year.
When the law was first approved in August, staff in Betando’s office started fielding calls from concerned parents who wanted to know more about how the district would handle it.
Over the course of his career and before the new legislation, Betando said he accommodated transgender students by offering alternative facilities, including a seldom-used staff restroom.
Principal Patricia Jolly at Christopher High School previously noted that any student who comes out about his or her alternative lifestyle is “brave,” but pointed out that transgender students often don’t reveal themselves because they “don’t want to bring attention to themselves.”
“If, in fact, there are any students who are transgender, that choose to make that known, we would certainly make sure the situation is safe for all students,” she said.
Until then, it’s school as usual with separate boys and girls bathrooms while the signatures are counted. If enough signatures are verified, AB 1266 will head for the November ballot where voters will have a chance to weigh in on the issue.

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