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Lawmakers in Kansas pass a sweeping bill that affects transgender people

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now to Kansas, where the state Senate on Tuesday passed what critics are calling some of the most restrictive legislation aimed at transgender people that we have seen. Senate Bill 180 would force transgender people to use bathrooms associated with the gender on their birth certificate. It would also prevent them from changing their name or gender on their driver's license. Transgender people in Kansas say the legislation basically erases them. Here to talk about the outlook on this bill and other legislation in the works is Andrew Bahl. He's the senior statehouse reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal.

Good morning, Andrew. This bill is one of hundreds passed across the country in Republican-led states - so-called red states - that restrict the rights of transgender people. But some critics say this one goes the furthest. As briefly as you can, who was behind it, and why is this bill seen as particularly extreme?

ANDREW BAHL: Yeah. So this bill is being promoted by a coalition of anti-transgender groups, and it's been introduced in other states but really has not made it as far there as it has in Kansas, where they sent it to our Democratic governor, Laura Kelly, yesterday. And we've seen kind of some of these pieces - you know, folks listening to this probably have heard about these kinds of bathroom bills in other states. But it's really kind of the sum total of this legislation that I don't think we've really seen anywhere else. And it comes down to things like, you know, not letting transgender folks change their name or gender on a driver's license or birth certificate, for things like vital statistics collection. It would define you either as male or female based on your sex at birth. And these are kind of new elements that we haven't really seen as much elsewhere.

MARTIN: How are people reacting in Kansas, particularly transgender people who would be affected by this?

BAHL: Yeah. I mean, we've seen rallies at the statehouse of transgender folks, something that I think, you know, a few years, a decade ago would have been difficult to imagine. And, you know, the argument basically has been, this erases us; you know, we would not be able to live our lives comfortably. And they point to evidence that being forced to use the bathroom of their sex assigned at birth increases rates of assault or harassment, same thing with not being able to change a name or gender on a driver's license. And, you know, they point to this, combined with other legislation that we've seen in Kansas and across the country, as creating a really, really hostile environment.

MARTIN: So the governor, Laura Kelly, who's a Democrat, as you told us, has threatened to veto this bill. Are there margins there to override it?

BAHL: There is definitely a path to override that veto. It hinges on two Democrats who voted for this in the Kansas House. The governor has been very critical of this type of legislation, but Republicans really have seemed to see this as an issue important to their voters. They used it in the gubernatorial campaign last year. And this is really a continuation of that and a continuation of the trend that we've seen across the country.

MARTIN: Does your reporting indicate whether anyone is threatening to challenge this in court, and are there the grounds to do it?

BAHL: We definitely are expecting a lawsuit if this is enacted. There have been threats already from transgender rights groups that that will be coming. And I think it's safe to say there'll be a pretty stiff fight in court.

MARTIN: That is Andrew Bahl, senior statehouse reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal.

Andrew, thank you so much.

BAHL: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.