“Potty talk” turned heated at an emotional Kent town-hall gathering with District 47 state legislators last Saturday.
Of several issues covered during the one-hour question-and-answer session, fallout from the “bathroom bill” took center stage. The state Senate, on a 25-24 vote, recently defeated legislation that would have repealed a rule allowing transgender people to use restrooms and locker rooms of the gender with which they identify.
Joe Fain, R-Auburn, the Senate majority floor leader, explained why he cast one of the deciding votes to defeat the measure. Fain joined Reps. Mark Hargrove, R-Covington, and Pat Sullivan, D-Covington – a South King County delegation – to share updates from the legislative’s session, a 60-day period that has reached its midway point.
“For 10 years now, since the Anderson-Murray Anti-Discrimination law went into effect, transgenders have the right to use the bathroom of their gender identity … that is their right,” Fain told the large crowd assembled at the Golden Steer Steak n’ Rib House. “I know there’s frustration. I recognize that many were disappointed with the vote … but on issues of individual rights and personal dignity, I don’t put that up for a poll. I’m going to vote my principles.
“At the end of the day it was put before me a bill that I believe was about the fundamental human rights of an individual,” Fain said, “and I support those fundamental rights.”
Fain’s response drew cheers and jeers from both sides of the room.
A burly man in the back of the banquet room, shouted out, “It’s a crime … teenage girls should not be seeing a grown man naked in a locker room.”
The remark alludes to a Feb. 8 incident in which a man wearing board shorts walked into the women’s locker room at a Seattle public pool and began undressing. Several shocked women alerted staff, who immediately told the man to leave. However, the man said the recent rule change allowed him to choose his locker room based on his identity, not his anatomy.
The episode has gained national attention, spurring conservative activists to launch a ballot campaign to overturn the state’s transgender rule.
Lawmakers acknowledge there are problems with the law. Opponents claim transgender bathrooms and locker rooms would expose women and girls to sexual assault by giving “deviant men” the protection of law.
Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, who sponsored the bill, called the rule “a powerful example of a state agency overstepping its executive rule-making power.”
“Parents have a right to expect that when their children go to school, the boys will use the boys’ locker room and the girls will use the girls’ locker room,” Ericksen said.
Moving forward, Fain has been working with the Attorney General’s office and other legislative leaders on ways to change the voyeurism statutes that make it explicit in what people can do in transgender-accessible bathrooms and to guide facility operators on what their rights are in keeping people safe.
On other topics
Growth and how it has affected the quality of roads, schools and neighborhoods took up some of the conversation.
Those concerns targeted rapid development in the Kent-Covington area and its strain on overworked roads and traffic-snarled streets.
Lawmakers understand that new infrastructure hasn’t keep pace with development.
“Having people come here is not a bad thing, it’s a matter of ensuring them that they help pay for new schools, new roads and the infrastructure costs that are going to be needed,” said Sullivan, the House majority leader. “Our system doesn’t work because what typically happens is we pay on the backside. The development comes in first, the infrastructure lags afterward. They pay a piece of it, then local governments work with state and federal government to pool enough money to then do these projects.”
Sullivan acknowledged that the process needs improvement so that infrastructure keeps pace with development. Hargrove said a balance must be struck and maintained so that costs and the burden of development and infrastructure do not fall entirely on builders or home buyers.
Lawmakers say some relief is on the way. The $15 billion state transportation package, passed last year, will help ease some congestion.
Kent will see the grade separation of South 228th Street over the Union Pacific railroad tracks at a cost of $15 million, significantly reducing area congestion due to increasing train traffic.
The package consists of more than $8 billion in new project funding, including $3.2 billion for projects affecting residents in Covington and Maple Valley. One project would widen state Route 516, from two to five lanes from Jenkins Creek to 185th Avenue, a cost of about $15 million – $1.8 million of which has already been funded, according to King County.
The Covington Connector, a $24 million project, would connect state Route 516 to state Route 18 with the development and extension of 204th Avenue Southeast through the Hawk property.
Other congestion-relief projects in the area would include the widening of Interstate 405, from Renton to Bellevue, and upgrades to the interchange of Interstate 5 and State Route 18 in Federal Way.
South King County will see the long-awaited completion of state Routes 509 and 167, reducing congestion and dramatically improving the ability to move freight to both major ports from manufacturing centers.
The plan also includes $15 million for a new eastbound on-ramp on state Route 18 in Auburn.
Plea for schools
The Legislature last week approved a bill committing lawmakers to finding a solution to the funding gaps identified in the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision. Senate Bill 6195 passed in the House with a vote of 66-31 and now heads to the governor for his signature.
The bill would convene a task force of state House and Senate Republicans and Democrats to recommend a solution to the over-reliance on local school levies to pay for basic education by the time the Legislature adjourns in 2017. The Education Funding Task Force would continue the work of the governor’s McCleary work group by making recommendations to the Legislature to implementing reforms.
“We made huge strides in funding for education …. yet we have the (state) Supreme Court coming down on us, saying we are not fulfilling our obligation,” Hargrove said. “We’re not there, and we all agree on that, but we are making significant steps, and I think we’re on a path where we need to go.”
Ray Vefik, Auburn School Board member, expressed his gratitude to the Legislature for its work toward education. Still, he says, schools districts are not keeping up with growth and more funding is desperately needed. The Auburn School District, Vefik says, needs to eventually replace four elementary schools and one middle school, and look to build two more elementary schools.
“And portables are not the answer, either,” Vefik said. “We have 92 portables on our 22 schools. We can’t keep going that route.”
Many legislators and outside education organizations believe the bill doesn’t go far enough with resolving the underfunding issue, while some say they understand the bill is bipartisan progress and wish the bill could have done more.
Fain, for one, says there are inequities in the public school funding system and until those complex problems are addressed, school will continue to look for revenue streams.
Kent schools also need help. The district will ask voters on April 26 to approve a $252 million bond referendum to fund several projects, including the construction of a new Covington Elementary School, a new elementary school in the Kent Valley and 20 additional classrooms at various schools.