DeLeo begins counting votes on transgender Bathroom Bill

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BOSTON – Speaker Robert DeLeo, the Democratic leader of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, is polling lawmakers to learn how the votes might line up on the so-called Bathroom Bill, which would let transgender people use public restrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their gender identity but not their anatomical sex.

The speaker, who supports the legislation (H 1577 / S 735), wants to see if he would have enough support to override a potential veto by Gov. Charlie Baker.

“What I’m starting to do is to do polling and see where the members stand, but I also have to be concerned that the governor’s going to veto it: Do we have enough to override the veto? So that’s the quandary,” DeLeo said Wednesday in an interviwe. “Although the governor hasn’t said one way or the other, I have to be prepared in case he does it.”

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat, also supports the measure, which has faced opposition from some who worry about the privacy of others using sex-segregated facilities. The bill would also ban discrimination against transgender people from other public accommodations, such as restaurants.

Activists are arrayed on both sides of the issue. Andrew Beckwith, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, has praised the bill’s opponents for their activism. After the House and Senate broke for the holidays without taking up the bill, Beckwith called it a “huge win.”

Major league sports teams, the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, Attorney General Maura Healey and others have backed the measure.

Rep. Marc Lombardo, a Billerica Republican and an opponent of the bill, said, if it passed, high school boys on a whim could declare themselves transgender to shower in the girls’ locker room, calling it a “recipe for disaster.”

“I don’t think anybody in the general public thinks that that’s appropriate,” said Lombardo, criticizing his Beacon Hill colleagues as “out of touch.” Lombardo said, “I hope there will be severe consequences at the ballot boxes of anyone who chooses not to protect our children.”

Rep. Denise Provost, a Somerville Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill, encouraged women lawyers gathered at a Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts event on Wednesday to counter the arguments against the legislation.

“Some of the reason that this bill seems to be stuck and not moving forward the way we would expect, with a favorable report out of the Joint Committee on Judiciary, and that reason, allegedly is us,” Provost said. “This building is filled with staunchly chivalrous people who insist that this bill would endanger women and children.”

Provost asked the group, “Who can demolish this argument, if not us?”

A push for passage of the bill would play out ahead of the fall elections. May 3 is the deadline for candidates to submit nomination papers to local election offices for House and Senate seats, though successful write-ins at the Sept. 8 primary could set up general election challenges for incumbents. July 31 is the last day for either branch to hold a roll call vote and the governor has 10 days to review a bill sent to his desk. If he does nothing, it would pass into law, assuming the legislature is in session.

Baker, who years ago opposed similar legislation, has been noncommittal on the pending proposal, asserting that “details are important.”

“I don’t want anyone to be discriminated against and I support the changes that were made in 2011. I do have some concerns getting away from current law going forward but as I’ve said several times I want to see the details of the bill,” Baker said in October.

In order to override a veto, two thirds of members present and voting in the House and Senate would need to vote in favor of the bill.

DeLeo said he has “just started” polling members. By the end of his polling, DeLeo plans to have spoken to “at the very least all of the Democrats.”

The House has 123 Democrats, including one who is resigning this month, and 34 Republicans, with three special elections set for March 1, and a fourth on May 10. Democrats hold 33 Senate seats, Republicans hold five and two special elections are set for May 10.

Written by Andy Metzger