Court: Montana must rewrite transgender bathroom initiative

AP News
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Posted: Sep 20, 2017 3:06 PM

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana Supreme Court has ordered the attorney general to rewrite ballot language for an initiative that would require people to use public restrooms designated for their gender at birth.

The court ruled Tuesday in a challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana, saying the language didn't include the initiative's specific definition of "sex" and was otherwise vague.

Caitlin Borgmann, executive director of the ACLU, said the initiative, if passed, would "banish transgender Montanans from full and equal participation in public life."

The justices agreed with the ACLU that the ballot language doesn't say the law would apply to local government buildings and public education facilities and doesn't include how much it would cost non-state owned buildings to comply.

It also isn't clear that people could sue for emotional or mental distress if they encounter a transgender person in a public bathroom and the facility hadn't taken reasonable steps to prevent it, the court said, again agreeing with the ACLU.

The conservative Montana Family Foundation has until June to gather nearly 26,000 signatures to get the initiative on the November 2018 ballot.

Jeff Lazloffy, the organization's president, said it's happy with the decision, saying the issues raised by the ACLU were "fairly minor." He did say it may not be possible to determine the fiscal impacts.

"We need to come up with a solution that works for everyone, or for the greatest number of people," Lazloffy said Wednesday, adding that he's confident the initiative will pass.

To allow anyone to go into any protected facility opens it up to people who say they identify as the opposite sex just to get access, Lazloffy said.

The ACLU of Montana called the high court ruling an important step toward defeating the proposed initiative.

"The Supreme Court has ensured that when all Montanans vote on (the initiative) and decide whether or not to legalize discrimination, they will be informed about the societal and economic costs for regulations that target our transgender friends and neighbors," said Alex Rate, ACLU legal director.