Thursday, May 19, 2016

Scott, Bondi remain quiet as transgender student bathroom debate comes to Florida

Posted By on Thu, May 19, 2016 at 7:51 AM

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Social conservatives, angered by the federal government's "guidance" that school districts should allow transgender students to use restrooms and other facilities of their choice, are pressuring Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi to push back against the initiative.

But so far, Scott and Bondi have resisted getting pulled into the politically combustible issue in the face of rapidly shifting public attitudes about issues affecting the LGBT community.

On Wednesday, state Rep. Janet Adkins publicly announced that she had asked Bondi to address whether the Obama administration's guidance is tantamount to a federal rule, or if it violates the 10th Amendment's guarantee of state sovereignty for Florida.

"To craft a special class of rights for certain individuals and to allow people to make decisions based on how they identify their gender creates a chaotic environment for the school administrators," said Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, in a statement released by her office. "This is illogical and harms the greater need for an orderly learning environment that promotes the safety and well-being of all students."

Adkins, who chairs the state House K-12 Subcommittee, is running for schools superintendent in Nassau County.

A joint letter from officials at the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice last week said school districts should treat transgender students in accordance with their chosen gender identity under Title IX, the part of federal law that bar sex discrimination in education.

The guidance "does not add requirements to applicable law, but provides information and examples to inform recipients about how the departments evaluate whether covered entities are complying with their legal obligations," the letter said. In turn, that could affect federal funding.

While opponents of allowing transgender students to use restrooms that don't conform with their sex at birth say it could lead to a breakdown in school discipline or even attacks, supporters say there is no evidence of that. LGBT advocates also argue that forcing students to use restrooms that don't correspond to their gender identity could lead to safety problems.

In a letter dated Wednesday, Florida Deputy Attorney General Kent Perez responded to Adkins by thanking her for the request but declining to address the question directly.

"We do not issue legal opinions on federal law," Perez wrote.

Scott has also avoided taking a position on the federal guidance, simply saying that his office was reviewing the issue.

Earlier this week, Republican congressional candidate Ken Sukhia, running for a North Florida seat that spans parts or all of 19 counties, called for Scott to tell school districts to ignore the president's "insane proclamation."

The Florida Family Policy Council, an organization set up to advance social conservative causes, has issued a letter by President John Stemberger calling on supporters to sign an online petition asking Scott to defy the Obama administration.

"For starters, the governors in at least six states have told the Obama administration they will NOT comply with his unlawful and dangerous edict," Stemberger wrote. "But Florida is not yet one of them. We need your help to make that happen. States MUST push back!"

When asked by email Wednesday whether there was anything new to report in regard to the approach of the governor's office on the issue, a Scott spokeswoman simply replied: "No."

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