A proposal to ban Berkeley County students from using the bathrooms of their choice is likely dead for the year after two local senators blocked it Tuesday.
State Sens. Sean Bennett, R-Dorchester, and Paul Campbell, R-Berkeley, whose districts include parts of the county, objected to the proposal, made by state Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley.
Campbell said he blocked the proposal to let local authorities deal with the issue.
Grooms’ proposal would have required Berkeley students to use bathrooms based on the gender on their birth certificate. The Senate gave the second of three required approvals to the local legislation last week.
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Normally, passage of local legislation, which only affects a legislator’s district, is routine. However, the bathroom bill was opposed by elected S.C. Republican leaders — including Gov. Nikki Haley and education Superintendent Molly Spearman — and many Democratic senators.
Bathroom-ban proposals have become a divisive issue since North Carolina passed a law in March that critics say discriminates against transgender people. In the wake of that law, North Carolina has been threatened with the loss of federal education money and jobs as some companies have canceled their plans to expand in that state.
Earlier this spring, state Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, pushed for a statewide ban on S.C. residents using bathrooms of their choice. However, that effort failed in the face of opposition from Haley and the S.C. Chamber of Commerce.
With several Berkeley lawmakers absent, senators abruptly adjourned Thursday to block the Senate from giving final approval to the Berkeley bathroom ban. Some senators expressed concern the bathroom bill could jeopardize almost $1 billion in federal aid that goes to S.C. schools or new jobs coming to the state.
Berkeley is the site of a Volvo auto plant, now under construction, expected eventually to employ 4,000. The state promised Volvo almost $200 million in incentives to build in Berkeley.
The Berkeley County school board had a meeting planned for Tuesday evening. However, board chairman Jim Hayes has said the bathroom issue is not likely to come up.
Special legislative session to start June 15
Legislators could return to Columbia in mid-June for a special legislative session.
Under a bill approved Tuesday by the state Senate, the special session would start at noon June 15. That’s the day after many legislators face challengers in party primaries. The measure allows the limited session to continue through June 22.
State law requires the regular session end at 5 p.m. June 2. But legislators routinely create a special session to wrap up their work on the state budget, which takes effect July 1, and reconcile differences in bills that have passed both chambers.