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New Rule Gives Federal Contractors More Leeway on Religious-Based Hiring

Religious-based organizations and companies that contract with the federal government may soon be able to make more business decisions based on their religious beliefs. The Trump Administration has proposed a new rule that would relax federal restrictions on whom these organizations can hire and fire.

 

Under the rule, company owners with sincere religious beliefs would be allowed to make hiring decisions consistent with those beliefs and still be federal contractors. The practical effect would be that some federal contractors could refuse to hire people of certain religions or sexual orientations. This rule reverses previous policy that required federal contractors to disregard religious views in hiring or firing when it came to certain people.

 

Critics say that the rule will allow companies to discriminate against gays, lesbian, and transgender individuals using taxpayer dollars. They contend this is a way for President Trump to repay religious supporters who have an anti-gay bias. Supporters counter that this rule will widen the field for federal contracting by allowing contractors to serve the public without violating their religious beliefs.

 

The Department of Labor has announced this as a proposed rule. This means that the public can comment on it for the next two months, then the rule will be finalized. Once that happens, it is certain to face legal challenges.

 

Do you think that the federal government should allow contractors to make hiring decisions that are informed by the contractor’s religious beliefs?

Tennessee Considering Abortion Ban

In a move sure to spark a court challenge, Tennessee legislators are considering passing a bill that would amount to a ban on abortion in the state.

 

Under the proposed bill, abortions would be banned at the moment a viable pregnancy is presume to exist or has been confirmed to exist. This means that as soon as a pregnancy can be detected by a test, usually within a couple weeks of conception, no abortion could be performed. This ban goes further than bans in other states that prohibit abortions when the fetus develops a heartbeat.

 

A similar bill was considered but not passed earlier this year in Tennessee. While Republicans control the legislature, not all of them support an abortion ban bill that goes this far. The lieutenant governor also opposes it.

 

Critics of the bill say that it goes much further to ban abortion that the Supreme Court allows. The high court’s decisions permit abortion bans when a fetus is viable outside of the womb. This bill bans abortion far earlier than this standard. Supporters recognize that passage of such a bill will involve court challenges, but say this would be a vehicle for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. If the court does this, it would end the national legalization of abortion and allow states to set their own rules for the procedure.

 

Legislators considered the bill during a special “study session” of the legislature. No bill can be passed during such a session, but this step does ready a bill for consideration when the regular session of the legislature occurs in January.

 

Do you think that states should be able to ban abortion?

Abortion Funding Ban Stays in Spending Bill

There has been a prohibition on spending federal money on abortion for over forty years. Reversing this ban has become a popular issue with Democrats running for president. However, the spending bill moving through the House of Representatives once again contains this ban, and House Democrats are not taking steps to strip it out.

 

In 1976, then-Rep. Henry Hyde sponsored an amendment to an annual government spending bill that prohibits federal funding for abortions except in the cases of rape, incest, or saving the life of the mother. This provision has been in every yearly spending bill since then. This includes the Labor-HHS-Education legislation currently being considered by the House of Representatives.

 

At the time of its enactment, the Hyde Amendment had bipartisan support. Today, however, Democrats are increasingly critical of it. Former Vice President Joe Biden had been a backer of the ban, but recently reversed his stance. By doing this, he joined his fellow Democratic candidates for president who want to see federal money paying for abortions.

 

While Democrats may not like the Hyde Amendment, there is no real effort to remove it from this year’s spending legislation. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi argues that the spending bill needs bipartisan support to avoid a government shutdown, so Democrats should accept this provision to advance their overall goals.

 

Those backing the Hyde Amendment contend that taxpayers should not be funding a procedure that many Americans consider tantamount to murder. They say that federal health care programs, such as Medicaid, should focus spending on other health care priorities. Those opposing this amendment say that banning the use of federal funds for abortion deprives poor women of the full range of reproductive choice.

 

Do you think that federal funds should be used to pay for abortions for Medicaid recipients and others in government health care programs?

Alabama Passes Abortion Ban

Abortion may soon be illegal in Alabama under legislation passed this week. The bill, if signed by the governor, would outlaw abortion in almost all circumstances.

 

Under the bill that has made it through both houses of the Alabama legislature, no woman could obtain an abortion unless her physical or mental health is threatened by the pregnancy. There is no exception for pregnancies that were the result of rape or incest. Doctors performign abortions could be charged with a felony.

 

This law conflicts with the 1973 Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade. In that case, the high court held that there was a constitutional right to an abortion. Such a right is subject to restrictions, but the court has held in subsequent cases that it cannot be prohibited.

 

Supporters of this bill acknowledged that it does indeed defy the Supreme Court’s decision. However, they were also frank that they wanted to pass the bill in order to raise another challenge to Roe. They view this as a way to give the Supreme Court an opportunity to reverse that decision. If that happened, abortion would not be illegal nationwide, but states could regulate it or even ban it.

 

This legislation now heads to Gov. Kay Ivey to sign or veto.

 

Do you think that abortion should be illegal in all cases except when the mother’s health is in jeopardy? Should the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade and allow states to restrict abortion?

Congress Considers Equal Rights Amendment

Congress sent the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the states for ratification in 1972. Yesterday, a House of Representatives subcommittee held a hearing on the ERA for the first time in 36 years, as advocates continue to push for it.

 

The ERA states, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” When it was initially sent to the states, Congress placed a deadline for ratification. That deadline expired in 1982 without approval from the necessary 38 states to be added to the Constitution.

 

Rep. Jackie Speier has introduced House Joint Resolution 38, which would eliminate the deadline for state ratification of the ERA. If both houses of Congress pass this resolution, it would ensure that when 38 states ratify it. Some observers say that this resolution is not necessary, since the initial deadline placed for ratification is invalid.

 

Thirty-seven states have taken such action so far. Most of these occurred in the 1970s, but two states (Illinois and Nevada) ratified it since 2017. However, 4 states have rescinded their ratification. The legality of whether states can rescind ratification is an open question. If a 38th state does ratify the ERA, there will be legal wrangling about whether Congress had the power to limit the time for ratification and whether states can rescind ratification.

 

During yesterday’s hearing, actresses Alyssa Milano and Patricia Arquette joined scholars and other experts in testifying before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. Supporters said that the ERA is necessary to ensure that women are protected from discrimination. Opponents say the amendment would be a way to strike down restrictions on abortion.

 

Do you support adding the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution?

“Born Alive” Bill Advancing in North Carolina

Measures to tighten restrictions on abortion have been debated in states across the nation during this year’s legislative sessions. The North Carolina Senate became the most recent legislative body to advance a bill on this controversial subject with the passage of the “Born Alive Act.” However, this legislation may not survive a veto threat from that state’s governor.

 

Under the Born Alive Act, doctors and nurses must provide protection to any child born after a failed late-term abortion attempt. Failing to do this could result in jail time and/or a fine of up to $250,000.

 

Supporters of this legislation say that it is necessary to ensure that proper medical care is provided to children who survive abortion attempts. Opponents, however, say that it is aimed at a non-existent problem. They contend that the law already provides protection for infants in these situations, so this bill is aimed at scoring political points.

 

The North Carolina Senate passed the legislation on Monday. Now it heads to the House of Representatives for a vote. Republicans control both chambers of the legislature. Democratic Governor Roy Cooper has criticized the bill. He is expected to veto it if it is presented to him.

 

Do you support the “Born Alive” bill? Is such legislation necessary to protect the lives of infants who survive abortion? Or are such bills simply political grandstanding?

House Rebukes Trump on Transgender Military Ban

By a vote of 238-185, this week the House of Representatives expressed its opposition to the Trump Administration’s ban on openly transgender troops serving in the Armed Forces.

 

House Resolution 124 states that the House of Representatives:

 

(1) strongly opposes President Trump’s discriminatory ban on transgender members of the Armed Forces;

 

(2) rejects the flawed scientific and medical claims upon which it is based; and

 

(3) strongly urges the Department of Defense to not reinstate President Trump’s ban on transgender members of the Armed Forces and to maintain an inclusive policy allowing qualified transgender Americans to enlist and serve in the Armed Forces.

 

Every Democratic member of the House who voted supported this resolution, and they were joined by 5 Republicans.

 

In 2017, President Trump issued a memorandum that prohibited openly transgender individuals from serving in the armed forces. This reversed a 2016 action by the Obama Administration which allowed such individuals to serve. President Trump’s ban has been tied up with legal challenges, although the Supreme Court did rule 5-4 in January to lift one of the injunctions against it.

 

This resolution does not have the force of law, but it does signal the disagreement of the House of Representatives with the president's action.

 

Do you think openly transgender individuals should be allowed to serve in the military?

Maryland Lawmakers Approve Gender Neutral Drivers’ Licenses

If you live in Maryland and do not identify as either male or female, you may soon be able to receive a gender neutral drivers’ license.

 

Under legislation approved by the state Senate, Marylanders who do not wish to have “F” or “M” on their drivers’ licenses may instead choose “X.” This signifies that the driver identifies as non-binary or gender neutral.

 

Sponsors of the legislation say that it will help gender neutral individuals participate more fully in society. They say it will help them move off the sidelines of public life. Opponents of the legislation argued that a driver’s license is an identifying document, so it should accurately represent the person who holds it.

 

Five other states issue gender neutral licenses. Maryland’s neighbor, the District of Columbia, also issues such licenses, and was the first jurisdiction to do so in 2017.

 

Do you think that states should issue gender neutral drivers’ licenses to people who do not identify as male or female?

Assisted Suicide Bill Considered in Maryland

It goes by a lot of names – assisted suicide, aid in dying, physician-assisted death, death with dignity, to name a few. Whatever term that one prefers, Maryland legislators are considering a bill that would allow doctors to aid terminally ill people who are seeking to die.

 

Under proposed legislation, Marylanders with a terminal illness who have fewer than six months to live could receive a prescription for drugs that would allow them to die in their sleep. The “End of Life Option Act” would shield participating physicians from civil or criminal liability for prescribing lethal medication in these instances.

 

Supporters of this bill say it is necessary to allow those who have painful illnesses to die with dignity. They argue that someone who wants to end his or her life quickly rather than suffering through a painful dying process, a doctor should be able to help that person. Opponents counter that doctors should preserve life, not take it.

 

Previous versions of this bill have been introduced in Maryland during past legislative sessions but have not received a favorable vote. Sponsors are hopeful that with a new crop of more liberal legislators elected in 2018, this may be the year for it to become law. Governor Larry Hogan has signaled that he is not supportive of assisted suicide.

 

If this legislation is enacted in Maryland, that state will join California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Colorado, and Vermont as states where assisted suicide is legal.

 

Do you think that it should be legal for doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of medication for patients with a terminal illness?

Virginia Considers Late-Term Abortion Bill

Legislation to loosen restrictions on late-term abortions is causing controversy in Virginia as supporters and opponents argue over how close to birth abortions could be performed.

 

The bill in question would reduce the number of doctors required to approve a late-term abortion from 3 to 1 and would remove the requirement that late-term abortions could only be performed because of a medical health risk to the mother. It also allows these abortions to take place in facilities that are subject to fewer health regulations than in current law.

 

Opponents of the legislation say that this would remove important safeguards that prevent abortions from occurring up until the moment of birth. They point to a video of the bill’s sponsor in which she testifies that the bill would allow abortions until a few moments before delivery. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, a supporter of the legislation, also stoked controversy when he appears to discuss whether a doctor should resuscitate a baby who is born alive after an abortion attempt.

 

Supporters of the bill counter that in cases where these abortions would take place, they would involve situations with non-viable fetuses. They say that they are only talking about extreme situations, and that opponents are taking their words out of context.

 

With Republicans in control of both houses of the legislature, this late-term abortion bill is unlikely to make it to Gov. Northam’s desk.

 

Do you think that it should be easier for women to get late-term abortions?

Fetal Heartbeat Abortion Bill Overturned in Iowa

An effort to ban abortions in Iowa if there was a detectable fetal heartbeat has been stopped by the courts. Backers are vowing to appeal this ruling with an eye towards overturning Roe v. Wade.

 

In 2018, Iowa legislators passed a strict ban on abortions in cases where a fetal heartbeat could be detected. District Court Judge Michael Huppert ruled yesterday that this was unconstitutional since heartbeats could be detected prior to the viability of the fetus.

 

Backers of this legislation knew that it would face judicial challenges. In fact, one of the senators supporting the law at the time of its passage said, “We created an opportunity to take a run at Roe v. Wade - 100 percent.” Under this strategy, the legislation would make its way through the court system until taken up by the Supreme Court. Presumably the high court would then use that opportunity to rule on whether the 1973 case legalizing abortion nationwide, Roe v. Wade, should be overturned.

 

Those opposed to this law hailed the court’s decision as consistent with constitutional protections for abortion. They also said that the decision was a victory for women’s freedom and health care.

 

Do you think that states should ban abortions when a fetal heartbeat can be detected? Should the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade?

Tens of Thousands Gather in DC to “March for Life”

Forty-six years after the Supreme Court established a woman’s right to an abortion, an expected 100,000 people will gather in Washington, D.C., for the annual “March for Life.”

 

This march draws pro-life individuals from across the nation to protest abortion and call for policies that would restrict the practice. The event begins by gathering on the National Mall, then a march to the Supreme Court where speakers address the crowd. This year, conservative activist Ben Shapiro will be the keynote speaker for the march. Last year, President Trump addressed the crowd via satellite, which was a first for a U.S. president. In previous years some presidents had taped a message or spoke to the crowd over the phone.

 

The first “March for Life” occurred on the first anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. That decision legalized abortion across the nation, and has been controversial from its announcement. Through court cases and legislation at the state and federal level, there have been a variety of restrictions placed on access to abortion. However, the ultimate goal of the “March for Life” is the end of legalized abortion in the U.S.

 

Do you think that abortion should be legal? What types of laws, if any, should be enacted to regulate abortion?

Gay Conversion Therapy May Soon Be Banned in New York

Therapists who attempt to change the sexual orientation of minors are being targeted by New York lawmakers. Both the state Assembly and Senate passed legislation that would ban the practice of gay conversion therapy. The bill now heads to the desk of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has said he would sign it.

 

Attempts by counselors and therapists to “convert” children from homosexuality to heterosexuality have become increasingly controversial. Most experts say that it relies upon flawed science. Others liken it to child abuse. The New York legislation would deem such therapy as “unprofessional conduct” and open practitioners to discipline.

 

Both houses of the legislature passed the bill by overwhelming margins. Gov. Cuomo has also expressed support for it, which makes the bill certain to become law soon. Previous attempts to pass legislation had run into roadblocks in the Senate, but with Democrats taking control this year the bill had little opposition.

 

When Gov. Cuomo signs this bill, it will become the sixteenth state to enact a ban on conversion therapy. Washington, D.C., also bans this practice.

 

Do you support states banning therapy aimed at changing a minor’s sexual orientation?

Abortion Pill Mandated at California Universities under Proposed Bill

Health centers at state universities may be required to offer medication that induces abortions under a bill filed in the California State Senate.

 

Sen. Connie Leyva’s legislation would mandate that health centers at all of the state’s universities must offer such a drug. She says that this bill is necessary to ensure that college students have access to abortion and are not deterred by distance or cost. Supporters of the legislation argue that in order for women to have the ability to exercise their reproductive rights, they should have easy access to this medication.

 

The legislature passed a similar bill last year, but Governor Jerry Brown vetoed it. In his veto message, he argued that abortion services in the state are prevalent, especially around universities. He said there was no need to mandate that schools offer abortion-inducing medication.

 

With a new governor in the state, it remains to be seen what the fate of such legislation will be this year.


Do you think that California should mandate that all public universities offer abortion-inducing drugs?

Cases Challenging Planned Parenthood Funding Bans Stand

Today, the Supreme Court took a minor foray into the debate over abortion. The justices refused to hear cases challenging court decisions involving state bans on Planned Parenthood funding. Some see this as a victory for abortion rights, but the reality is more complex.

 

A number of states have passed laws removing taxpayer funding from Planned Parenthood. While Planned Parenthood provides a variety of reproductive services, the organization also performs abortions. Lawmakers who voted to end government money to Planned Parenthood did not want to provide financial support for an organization involved with abortion.

 

Predictably, there were lawsuits. In Kansas and Louisiana, the cases involved whether or not Medicaid recipients who received services from Planned Parenthood could sue over the ending of state support for the organization. Lower courts held that they could and the Supreme Court declined to take a case that would have reviewed these court decisions. This decision allows the lower court cases to proceed.

 

Three justices, with Clarence Thomas in the lead, said the court should have taken up the case. He pointed out that the issue did not directly involve abortion rights, but instead involved the question of whether or not an individual could sue under the Medicaid Act. However, he claimed that the other justices were reluctant to wade into a wider debate over abortion, so they declined to take up this case.

 

This case involved only one aspect of the Planned Parenthood funding bans. There may be other cases involving this issue that reach the Supreme Court in the future.

 

Do you think that states should cut off funding for Planned Parenthood? Should people who receive services be able to sue if the funding to Planned Parenthood is eliminated?

Recreational Marijuana May Be Legalized in New Jersey

Legislators in New Jersey today considered a package of bills that, if passed, could make the state the eleventh to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

 

Committees in both the Assembly and the Senate held hearings on legislation to expand the state’s medicinal marijuana program, permit marijuana to be used for recreational purposes, and allow more crimes to be eligible for expungement.

 

One of the bills under consideration would allow state residents who are 21 or older to possess an ounce of cannabis for personal uses. Smoking marijuana in public would be treated similar to smoking tobacco. Home cultivation would not be allowed under this legislation. The state would tax the sale of legal marijuana at 12%, with local governments able to impose another 2% tax rate.

 

Another bill would allow medical marijuana patients to possess 3 ounces of cannabis. Currently they can only possess 2 ounces. These patients could also buy edible marijuana products under this legislation and could buy from any dispensary, instead of being limited to one dispensary as they currently are today.

 

Governor Phil Murphy is supportive of legalization, but has differed with legislators on the details. For instance, he pushed for a 25% tax rate on legal marijuana sales. Legislators ultimately put a lower rate in legislation in order to deter black market sales.

 

Both legislative bodies are controlled by Democrats, and there are indications that a majority of legislators support some form of legalization.

 

Of the 11 states that allow legal use of recreational marijuana, only Vermont has legalized the use through the legislative process. The other 10 states passed legalization through ballot measures.

 

Do you support the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes?

Obamacare Contraception Mandate Being Revised

For the past six years, there have been legal and regulatory fights over the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate. With the Trump Administration getting set to announce new rules on the mandate, it appears these fights will continue for years to come.

 

The ACA, or Obamacare, mandated that employers provide contraception coverage as part of their health insurance benefit at no charge to their employees. The Obama Administration wrote rules that required employers to offer coverage for all contraceptives approved by the Food and Drug Administration. This has led to ongoing lawsuits over the constitutionality of the mandate. The Supreme Court has ruled in one case that some corporations can be exempt from the mandate on religious grounds.

 

In response to another court cases, both the Obama and Trump Administrations have been devising regulations that would allow certain religious-based nonprofits to claim an exemption from the mandate. Several states challenged the Trump Administration’s 2017 rules that would have given a broad religious exemption from the mandate and a federal court struck them down.


The Trump Administration is preparing new rules that will attempt to survive a legal challenge. Observers expect them to give wide leeway to groups that do not want to provide coverage of contraceptive services that violate their religious beliefs.

 

Opponents of an expansive exemption to the contraception mandate say that the religious beliefs of employers should not dictate what types of health care that employees receive. They argue that contraception decisions are between a patient and a doctor, so an employer should have no say over it.

 

Those who favor a broad exception to the mandate say that it is unconstitutional for the federal government to force people to pay for contraceptive services that they view as immoral. They point out that this contraception would not be banned, and that employees could purchase it on their own.

 

It is unclear when the Trump Administration will announce these new contraceptive mandate rules. When it does, there will likely be lawsuits challenging them.

 

Do you think that religious nonprofits should be forced to offer contraceptive coverage even if such contraception violates the religious beliefs of those who operate the organization?

Harvard Trial Could Have Big Impact on Affirmative Action

Does Harvard’s “race-conscious” admissions policy illegally discriminate against Asian-American students?

That is the question at the heart of the trial that began this week pitting a group of Asian-American students against the Ivy League college. The Supreme Court has ruled that schools cannot use racial quotas in admissions, but has allowed some consideration of race.

 

The students are suing Harvard under the theory that the school’s race-conscious admissions policy allows it to manipulate potential students’ scores to achieve a certain racial balance. They contend that Asian-American students receive lower scores in some areas to balance out their higher academic and extracurricular activity scores. They argue that a race-blind process would lead to more Asian-American students allowed into Harvard.


The school denies discriminating against Asian-American students. It says that diversity is an important goal for an academic community that would be undermined if the courts find that using race-conscious admissions is illegal.

 

The group Students for Fair Admissions has brought this lawsuit. Its spokesman has said that affirmative action is not the issue here, but this case could lead to the Supreme Court. If that happens, the high court would have the opportunity to decide whether or not any racial factors should be at play when schools decide whom to admit and whom to deny.

 

Do you think that race should be a factor in college admissions?

 

Equal Rights Amendment an Issue in Virginia Senate Race

 

It may be over 40 years old, but the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is a fresh topic in the Virginia Senate race.

 

During last night’s debate between Sen. Tim Kaine and challenger Corey Stewart, the issue of whether Virginia should ratify the ERA. Stewart said that passage of the ERA would lead to a rash of lawsuits, with men suing to participate in women’s athletic programs. Sen. Kaine said that the amendment was good for women.

 

The ERA says, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Supporters of this measure say that it is necessary to ensure that federal or state laws do not treat men and women differently. They say that, just like previous constitutional amendments prohibited discrimination based on race, this amendment is needed to prevent discrimination based on sex. Opponents of the amendment say that it would lead to government laws being made without regard to natural gender differences.

 

First submitted to the states for ratification in 1972, the ERA has yet to see enough states ratify it so it becomes part of the Constitution. Congress initially set a deadline of 1979 for the required 38 states to ratify the ERA. When that passed without the necessary number of states doing so, Congress extended the deadline to 1982. Only 35 states ratified the ERA prior to 1982, but 4 states rescinded their ratification. Since 2017, two states have ratified the ERA.

 

One house of the Virginia legislature ratified the ERA in 2011. A bipartisan group of legislators plans on introducing a ratification resolution next year. If that resolution passes, then 38 states would have ratified the ERA. However, a legal fight would likely follow, since the necessary ratifications occurred after the congressionally-set deadline and four of those states later reversed themselves. The Constitution is silent on whether or not Congress can set a deadline for ratification and whether states can rescind their ratification of amendments.

 

Do you think that the Equal Rights Amendment should be added to the Constitution?

Transgender Discrimination Ban up for a Vote in Massachusetts

The fate of the Massachusetts law banning discrimination in public accommodations based on gender identity will be decided in November.

 

Question 3 will allow voters to determine if the law passed in 2016 that prohibits discrimination based on gender identity will go into effect. State residents collected enough signatures to put it on the ballot this year. If a majority of voters reject Question 3, the law will be overturned.

 

At issue is whether or not businesses and the government must provide accommodation for individuals based on the gender by which they identify. The law applies to businesses such as restaurants, stores, hotels, stadiums, and other similar places as well as schools and government buildings. Under the law, someone’s gender identity is protected if it is "sincerely held as part of a person's core identity" regardless of "whether or not that gender-related identity, appearance or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the person's physiology or assigned sex at birth.” This law prohibits businesses and schools from allowing someone to access a bathroom or locker room based on their gender identity.

 

Those who support this law say that it is needed in order to protect transgender residents of Massachusetts from discrimination. They contend that many transgender individuals are harassed for using public accommodations, so this law is necessary in order for these individuals to live their lives without fear. Those opposed to the law say that it will make it easier for men looking to victimize women or girls to access women’s bathrooms.

 

Six other states have similar laws banning discrimination in public accommodations based on gender identity.

 

Do you think states should pass laws banning discrimination based on gender identity? Do you support laws requiring schools and businesses to provide individuals access to bathrooms and locker rooms based on their gender identity?

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