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New Arkansas 'Bathroom Bill' Covers Public Schools, Government Buildings

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - State lawmakers filed nearly 600 bills Monday, the deadline for new legislation.

Sen. Linda Collins-Smith, R-Pocahontas, proposed a "bathroom bill" that would prohibit people from using bathrooms and locker rooms in public schools and colleges and government buildings that don't match their gender at birth.

Sen. Collins-Smith said she isn't worried her Arkansas Physical Privacy and Safety Act will create a North Carolina effect, where a similar bill is causing backlash for how its impacting the transgender population. 

As a mother and grandmother, Sen. Collins-Smith believes her bill will most importantly protect students' privacy by preventing someone of the opposite sex from changing or showering in front of them. 

"There's a real, real threat out there and we want to make sure that they're protected, that we preserve their dignity," she said.

A fellow grandmother agrees with her. 

"Children have enough to deal with as it is so to make it confusing for them to say a girl can go into a guy's restroom, it opens the door for too many other things," said a Little Rock grandmother.  

Other Arkansans think the bill is unnecessary. 

"I wouldn't really try to see who else is in the bathroom," said Bradley Johnson. "That wouldn't be my business. I would do my business and get out of there." 

Sen. Collins-Smith believes her legislation is different from others because it allows businesses to determine their own policies. That includes private entities who lease public facilities, like convention centers or stadiums. 

"That's important as a business owner," she said. 

Collins-Smith's bill would also not prevent government entities from providing family restrooms or single-occupancy restrooms to people who need them. 

Governor Asa Hutchinson has said he doesn't see a need for a bathroom bill and Tuesday, his spokesman confirmed his stance hasn't changed, saying those best suited to handle the issue are at the local level. 

"I fully expect that our governor is going to support the privacy, the safety of our children," Sen. Collins-Smith said. "This act, once it's passed into law, will do that and I can't imagine he wouldn't be onboard." 

Although this legislation does regulate bathroom use based on gender, it's not as expansive as a bill filed by another senator that would have applied to all public bathrooms. He withdrew it last week.

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