By Izumi Hansen
WNPA Olympia News Bureau
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Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, was the lone Democrat to vote in favor of the measure.
The Washington State Human Rights Commission created the rule, which went into effect last December, as a clarification of a 2006 law that prohibits discrimination based on gender identity.
“This has been the law in Washington state for 10 years, and all that the law has done in 10 years is protect the lives and civil rights of innocent people,” Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, said before voting.
Proponents of SB 6443, speaking during floor debate Wednesday, said it protected people from predators, who could use the rule to disguise themselves as members of the opposite gender.
“We're not trying to take people's rights. We're trying to address this for small children whose parents are coming to us saying, 'What about us?' ” said Sen. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard.
Said Hargrove: “I do not know of a transgender person that is a sex offender.
“What I am concerned about is that there will be a lot of sex offenders that will all of a sudden become transgender because it gives them an opportunity to get into our locker rooms.”
Hargrove represents the 24th District — which covers Clallam and Jefferson counties and a portion of Grays Harbor County — along with Reps. Steve Tharinger and Kevin Van De Wage, both Sequim Democrats.
Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, who sponsored the bill, said implementing the existing rule would be difficult for business owners and that the process that created the rule was flawed.
“In an area that is so important to so many people, I believe it is the duty of the Legislature to be the one making the final decisions on issues of this type,” Ericksen said.
But opponents said there were no reported incidents of predators entering bathrooms by claiming they are of another gender.
“I'm happy to report that we have a good handful of criminal statutes that are available to make sure they are not able to harass or ogle or do anything else inappropriate,” said Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle.
Opponents said the bill played into fear and would repeal civil rights for transgender people.
“We have some genuine but subjective fears that have been expressed by people who are worried about what might happen in their locker rooms,” Pedersen said.
“We have objectively genuine and reasonable fears from our transgender brothers and sisters in Washington.”
Many senators said during the floor debate that transgender people experience violence at a higher rate than other populations.
Some opponents also said transgender people do not lightly choose to present as a gender different from their birth sex.
“When we diminish the rights and the dignities and the freedoms of any one of our people in this state, each one of us is diminished,” said Liias.
“[The existing rule] doesn't make us any less safe. It will make it clearer and easier for us.”
Sen. Cyrus Habib, D-Bellevue, said, “There is no civil right to not be uncomfortable.
“There is a civil right to be included. It doesn't mean that we don't care.
“It doesn't mean we don't understand where people are coming from. But it can't control. It can't dominate. We have to put civil rights first.”
Three Republicans, Sens. Joe Fain of Auburn, Andy Hill of Redmond and Steve Litzow of Bellevue, voted against the bill, and one Democrat, Hargrove, voted for it.
Litzow said after the vote, “I hope today's vote by the Senate makes it clear to transgender people that their elected officials strongly believe that discrimination is not acceptable.”
Some members said they could not believe they were having this debate about changing civil rights laws, particularly when other issues such as education and budget are priorities for the short session.
Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, said: “We finally have the rules in place in this great state to protect all of our children and all members of our community.
“And now in this body, we are having a debate on if that is appropriate.
“We need to grow up. We need to come into 2016 and recognize that equality matters, that civil rights matter.”
After the Senate adjourned, Ericksen said he was disappointed with the vote.
“It's pretty hard-pressed to call it a civil rights issue,” he said.
A companion House bill sponsored by Luanne Van Werven, R-Lynden, failed to gain a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee this session.
This story is part of a series of news reports from the Washington State Legislature provided through a reporting internship sponsored by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation. Contact reporter Izumi Hansen at email@example.com.