Senate takes step toward bathroom ban for Berkeley students

The state Senate took a step Thursday toward approving a proposal to require Berkeley County students to use bathrooms based on the gender on their birth certificate.

State Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, said the bathroom bill is needed because of uncertainty over the Berkeley school district’s policy.

The Berkeley school board recently indicated it would allow students to choose the bathroom that they use.

Grooms’ proposal was introduced as so-called local legislation. Traditionally, only legislators from the affected area vote on such legislation.

However, other senators expressed concern Wednesday about the proposal.

State Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, noted companies have protested a similar North Carolina bill. Critics say that law discriminates against transgender people.

Lourie noted the proposal was a local matter. But, he added, if the Berkeley schools lose federal aid because of the law, state taxpayers will be called on to make up the difference.

He also noted carmaker Volvo is building an auto plant in Berkeley County, a facility that South Carolina has put up more than $200 million in incentives for, including almost $70 million for an interstate interchange. However, if Volvo balks at the bathroom ban, the interchange won’t be needed, meaning that money can be used to offset federal money lost by the Berkeley schools.

The proposal received second reading approval Wednesday with only local legislators voting. It requires a third and final reading before going to the S.C. House, where it likely will face hurdles.

"Most people, right now, in the House are honestly just shaking their head saying, ‘I can’t believe we’re having to deal with this issue,’" said state Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Berkeley.

Merrill would not say if he would oppose the bill.