NASHVILLE — Tennessee's transgender school-bathroom controversy is threatening to bubble up again this year in the General Assembly.
State Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, has introduced legislation requiring either that the Tennessee attorney general defend or the state provide financial help to school districts and officials facing legal action over any policies "designed to protect the privacy of students from exposure to others of the opposite biological sex."
The facilities included in the bill include restrooms, locker rooms or other areas "where students may be in various states of undress."
"I think the ACLU will try to find some poor county and go after them," said McCormick of his bill, noting the legislation is primarily intended to protect poorer counties that may not be able to afford a legal fight.
The former House majority leader added that "we don't want someone intimidated by a lawsuit. We just want to show them the state will back them up."
The Tennessee Equality Project quickly denounced the bill as a "new twist on the old anti-transgender bathroom bill" and in an email alert called on members of the LGBT community and others to contact the Chattanooga lawmaker and "urge him to withdraw the bill."
House Minority Leader Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, said he was "disappointed" McCormick had resurrected an issue lawmakers have battled over in recent years, adding he "had hoped we'd really moved past this."
He recalled a previous measure had failed in committee.
"I got to say I've just not met a single educator or real person who cares about this bathroom issue," Stewart said. "It appears it's been concocted by certain agitator groups. This doesn't seem to be an issue that has real substance."
The bill has no Senate sponsor at this point. But last year, then-Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, who is now a senator, had legislation that would have required students in public schools and universities to use restrooms and locker rooms corresponding with the sex listed on their birth certificates.
That, too, drew fire.
The issue of transgender people's access to restrooms and similar facilities that correspond with their gender identity and preference erupted during the Obama administration when the federal government issued new guidelines for schools and universities.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam was unfavorable to various bills last year, saying school district leaders who best knew local needs and circumstances should be calling the shots.
President Donald Trump, the U.S. departments of Education and Justice last year withdrew the Obama administration policy.
Contact Andy Sher at 615-255-0550 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story was updated Jan. 10, 2018, at 10:38 p.m. with more information.