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State Bill to be introduced in Alabama could adversely affect university funding

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Alabama's public universities could face a staggering loss of funding thanks to a proposed bill aimed at opposing President Barack Obama's transgender bathroom directive.

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Earlier today, President Barack Obama issued an executive directive aimed at preventing discrimination of transgender students in public schools.

In a joint statement today, the US Department of Education and the US Department of Justice set out to explain how to properly handle transgender issues using a "significant guidance" letter.

The sticking point in this matter is a subsection dealing with transgendered students and bathroom assignments. The statement reads thusly:

A school may provide separate facilities on the basis of sex, but must allow transgender students access to such facilities consistent with their gender identity. A school may not require transgender students to use facilities inconsistent with their gender identity or to use individual-user facilities when other students are not required to do so. A school may, however, make individual-user options available to all students who voluntarily seek additional privacy.

The "significant guidence" letter carries no power of law, but it does contain power of the purse; any state or public school that is found to be non-compliant is subject to losing Title IX monies from the government.

As a condition of receiving Federal funds, a school agrees that it will not exclude, separate, deny benefits to, or otherwise treat differently on the basis of sex any person in its educational programs or activities unless expressly authorized to do so under Title IX or its implementing regulations. The Departments treat a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex for purposes of Title IX and its implementing regulations. This means that a school must not treat a transgender student differently from the way it treats other students of the same gender identity.

The letter is in response to HB2, recently signed by North Carolina governor Pat McCreary, which restricts public bathroom use to biological sex only.

North Carolina may soon find another compatriot in the "bathroom bill" matter, as Alabama state senator Phil Williams (R-Rainbow City) is proposing a bill, called SB1, that strengthens the provisions put forth in North Carolina's HB2.

Per a guest column on AL.com, Williams explained his plan.

If North Carolina's law is struck down then my legislation will become a backstop to say that if any person or entity provides public restrooms, bathrooms, or changing facilities then they will do so in one of three ways: a single user facility; facilities separated by the physical gender of the users; or, if facilities are provided in a unisex/transgender manner, an attendant for each facility must be onsite to address any concerns or questions of the general public. Failure to do so would result in civil penalties and provide a private right of action in court for those individuals who have been harmed or aggrieved.

The bill has predictably received support from the vast majority of GOP lawmakers in the state, including Rep. Will Ainsworth (R-Guntersville,) who equated gender identity to "dressing like a pirate", Attorney General Luther Strange, who called the Obama directive "absurd," and US Representative Martha Roby (R-Mobile) saying supporters of the directive have "lost their minds."

The bill, which was pre-filed yesterday, could see the legislative floor as soon as February 2017, although there are rumblings that the bill could very well be included in a special session if Governor Robert Bentley (R-Tuscaloosa) declares one.

The state of Alabama has a woeful education budget and relies a lot on federal funding, as the department deals with pay cuts to go to other expenses, such as outstanding debts and Medicaid, which is currently in an $85 million shortfall.

Alabama is among the worst in the nation in inflation-adjusted spending per student as of 2013, and only passed a five percent increase in the budget in the most recent legislative session in April after years of drastic cuts.

The bill, if passed, could potentially affect public universities in the state of Alabama, including Alabama, Auburn, Alabama State, Alabama A&M, UAB, UAH, Jacksonville State, North Alabama, South Alabama, Troy University and West Alabama. The trickle-down effect could ultimately lead to cuts in many departments, including sports.