ACLU of Montana sues to stop ballot initiative

On Tuesday the ACLU of Montana filed a lawsuit in District Court on behalf of seven transgender Montana residents, the parents of a 9-year-old transgender child and the City of Missoula. The Bozeman City Commission has voted to join the lawsuit.

The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of Initiative 183, which would require transgender residents of the state to use public bathrooms and locker rooms according to their sex assigned at birth.

This proposed measure legalizes discrimination.

--Alex Rate, ACLU of Montana

The ACLU and the plaintiffs argue the Locker Room Privacy Act would deprive transgender Montanans of equal protection under the law and violate their rights to privacy, dignity and due process.

The lawsuit asks the court to declare the initiative unconstitutional and to prevent Secretary of State Corey Stapleton from placing it on the November 2018 ballot.

The initiative is sponsored by the Montana Family Foundation.

High school girls shouldn't be forced to shower in front of a boy, even if he does think he's a girl. Boys shouldn't have to change clothes in front of a girl, even if she thinks she's a boy. It's just common sense.

--Jeff Laszloffy, MFF

While his arguments center on locker room use, plaintiffs focused on the initiative as it would apply to public restrooms.

This morning, I walked down the hall and used the women's restroom. It was not lost on me that if I-183 passes, I would not be able to use that restroom.

What better way to discriminate against a class of people than to effectively exclude them from public places

--Roberta Zenker, plaintiff

Laszloffy argued the lawsuit is premature because the initiative has not yet qualified for the ballot. Supporters have until June to gather the nearly 26,000 signatures needed.

The high court ruled last month that the ballot language approved for the initiative needed to be re-written because it did not include the initiative's definition of sex and was otherwise vague.

The Montana Office of Budget and Planning estimated more than $545,000 in costs during the first four years if the initiative were to pass, accounting for renovation, construction and signs for some state departments. It also noted inventories and assessments would need to be done on more than 2,200 state-owned buildings and K-12 schools statewide.

A broader estimate put impacts from the initiative at $1 billion a year, taking in jeopardized federal funding for the Montana University System, saying at minimum $250 million annually was at risk.

Of course, the Trump Administration will no doubt do away with those nasty federal requirements.

The estimate did not account for the fiscal impacts to local cities and towns who would have to enforce the new law, and damages from possible lawsuits, though it said the legal reserve necessary to address claims would be $250,000 per biennium. The office called the impacts “an unfunded mandate on local governments.”

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