The Arkansas House has passed a measure that would protect educators from any litigation which might result from offending a student if they don’t use that student’s preferred pronouns or name.
The measure known as HB 1749 reads, “An employee of a public school shall not be required to use a pronoun, title, or other word to identify a public school student as male or female that is inconsistent with the public school student’s biological sex.”
TheBlaze.com reports the legislation would empower an employee of a public school who faces “adverse action” for calling a student by the wrong name or pronoun to file a legal claim for relief.
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Republican state Rep. Mary Bentley, the bill’s sponsor, argued during debate on the House floor that the bill’s purpose is to protect the conscience rights of teachers.
“It’s not compelling anyone’s speech, it’s not prohibiting anyone’s speech,” Bentley said. “It’s helping those professors and teachers in our schools that do not want to be used for not using a certain person’s pronoun.”
Calling the measure a necessary first step, she said the state legislature should do more to protect parents and teachers.
“Districts definitely need to look at this and do more. This bill is a simple bill. It has already been affirmed by the appeals court and the sixth district. All this is, is protecting our teachers, and they do feel threatened,” Bentley said.
Democrats responded in opposition to the bill, saying such a law would reassure teachers who are intentionally misgendering students.
State Rep. Fred Love said calling someone by their preferred name or pronoun is the right thing to do.
“Refer to someone as they choose to be referred to,” he said. “That’s not hard. That’s not difficult. That’s just a bit of decency and a bit of respect, and I think that’s what we need to do.”
The legislation passed the House along partisan lines, 62-21, according to TheBlaze.com. Two Republicans voted with Democrats against the bill. It now proceeds to the state Senate.
Also last week, Arkansas lawmakers made the state the first to ban gender confirming treatments and surgery for transgender youth, overriding the governor’s objections to enact the prohibition.
The state’s Republican-controlled House and Senate voted to override GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s veto of the measure, which prohibits doctors from providing gender-confirming hormone treatment, puberty blockers, or surgery to anyone under 18 years old, or from referring them to other providers for the treatment.
Last month, Hutchison did sign a law banning transgender people who identify as women and girls from competing in girls school sports teams, making the state the second to approve such a restriction so far this year.