Religious Freedom & Trans Bathroom Bills Filed in Kentucky

Kentucky Democrat Rick Nelson proposed HB105 and HB 106 - Religious Freedom & Bathroom Bills

A Democrat in the Kentucky House filed two bills today targeting the LGBTQ community. HB106 is a near copy of the North Carolina HB2 ‘Bathroom bill’ that targeted transgender people for explicit discrimination in gender-segregated facilities while HB105 is a so-called ‘religious freedom’ bill that would allow the use of religious belief to be used to legally justify discrimination against LGBTQ people in places of public accommodation.

While the two bills would have little effect on the state at large – as no LGBTQ protections exist at that level – both pieces of legislation could significantly harm LGBTQ people in urban centers across the state that currently enjoy local-level anti-discrimination protections.

The Courier-Journal reported on the bills today stating:

Rep. Rick Nelson, a Democrat from Middlesboro, filed the transgender bathroom bill (House Bill 106) that would require public schools, state universities, state government and local governments to designate that bathrooms they control “only be used by persons based on their biological sex.”

And Nelson’s House Bill 105 is similar to past “religious freedom” bills filed in the legislature. It says that no law, regulation or court order shall impair the exercise of rights guaranteed by the constitutions of the United States and Kentucky including “a person’s right of conscience” and freedom of religion.

Commenting on his legislation, Nelson said, “I just want to make sure those bills are out there in case the other side decides not to do them. I support them and think they’re pretty good.”

Previous versions of the bills had previously been blocked by the Democratic majority in the House – a majority that vanished in November as Republicans took control of the legislature.

Fairness Campaign director Chris Hartman condemned the bills in a statement saying, “Together these bills are North Carolina’s House Bill 2.” Hartman added,  “It would subvert fairness ordinances in the eight Kentucky cities where they exist.”

Hartman continued:

“The effect of passing this type of discriminatory legislation is clear. It will cost the state millions of dollars. If Kentucky lawmakers want to remain focused on improving our commonwealth’s economy, this is exactly the legislation they should avoid. Furthermore, if Kentucky fans hope to host NCAA College Basketball championship games in the future, they must speak out against HB 105 and HB 106.”

In an unexpected turn of events, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin (R) opposes HB106. He expressed disappointment in conservative enthusiasm over the bill last month when he said legislators should be focused on jobs, not culture war battles.

“Why? Why would we? Why would anybody need it? Is it an issue? Is there anyone you know in Kentucky who has trouble going to the bathroom?” Bevin said. “Seriously. Have you heard of one person in Kentucky having trouble taking care of business in Kentucky?”

He continued by arguing “the last thing we need is more government rules.” Bevin added, “Making government rules for things that don’t even need government rules would be silly.”

Should Kentucky sign a bathroom bill into law, it could reap the same economic devastation North Carolina faced in the wake of HB2 – a fact Bevin may have had in mind as he spoke out against the bill. Being one of the poorest states in the union, Kentucky can’t lose what little tourism and convention income it already has.

The potential of making Kentucky another North Carolina didn’t seem to scare conservatives, however.

“This has nothing to do with discrimination. It is a targeted bill that focuses on several rights, including religious free exercise for certain kinds of businesses,” said Martin Cothran, spokesman for the Family Foundation of Kentucky. “It affects a religious bookstore owner or owner of any business where the service being requested would enroll the person providing the service in something that potentially violates their right of conscience.”

That same line of thinking is still being touted in North Carolina as conservatives defend the deeply unpopular HB2 and the nearly $400 million it’s cost the state.

For the moment HB105 and HB106 appear to be dead in the water as both Governor Bevin and House Speaker Jeff Hoover (R) both show little interest in reigniting yet another LGBTQ civil rights debate after the Kim Davis debacle.

Tim Peacock is the Managing Editor and founder of Peacock Panache and has worked as a civil rights advocate for over twenty years. During that time he’s worn several hats including leading on campus LGBT advocacy in the University of Missouri campus system, interning with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, and volunteering at advocacy organizations. You can learn more about him at his personal website.

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