Student transgender bathroom bill delayed in TN Senate panel

In this 2013 file photo, Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville displays a knife during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing as Sen. John Stevens of Huntingdon looks on. On Thursday, Bell and Rep. Jeremy Faison, chairmen of their respective House and Senate operations committees, said the panels will hold a joint "fact-finding" hearing next month to examine enforcement of Tennessee's law banning sales of aborted fetuses in the wake of a controversy over the issue regarding national Planned Parenthood.

NASHVILLE - The Senate sponsor of a transgender student bathroom bill today asked Finance Committee members to delay acting on the controversial measure while he sorts through a State Attorney General opinion that warns it could lead to a massive loss of federal education funds.

"My request is to roll House Bill 2387," Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville said. "I'm still trying to digest and understand the impact of the attorney general's opinion."

In his legal opinion issued Monday, Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery said the state risks losing federal education funds estimated by the state Department of Education at $1 billion or more.

Slatery said that's because the U.S. Department of Education interprets federal Title IX to require transgender students be given access to restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their "gender identity" as opposed to their anatomical gender.

The vice chairman of Senate Finance, Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, told Bell that because of the large potential impact to the state budget, the measure will have to "go behind the budget," meaning it won't be considered until the end of the panel's budgetary decision-making process.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocates have called Bell's bill a "hate" bill and likened it to similar legislation passed in North Carolina.

Bell and other proponents say the bill is intended to protect students' privacy.