NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who opposed a transgender bathroom bill in the Tennessee Legislature, is speaking out against a directive by President Barack Obama’s administration that public schools must allow students to use facilities consistent with their gender identity.
In a statement Monday, Haslam called the directive a “heavy-handed approach” to an issue that should be handled by local authorities, not the state or the federal government.
“Decisions on sensitive issues such as these should continue to be made at the local level based on the unique needs of students, families, schools and districts while working closely with the local school board counsel,” Haslam said.
The Tennessee bill seeking to require students to use restrooms and locker rooms corresponding to the gender listed on their birth certificates was withdrawn before the end of the legislative session last month to allow legal challenges to play out in other states that have passed similar measures.
“This is an emerging area of law that will ultimately be settled by the courts,” Haslam said.
Congressional candidate Joe Carr, who is challenging incumbent Rep. Diane Black in the Republican primary for the 6th District, on Monday demanded that Tennessee file a lawsuit against what he called “the Obama administration’s bullying tactics.” He also urged school districts to sue the Justice and Education departments.
“It is time that our elected leaders grew a spine and hit back against another unconstitutional Obama order,” he said.
The governor told reporters late last week that it was too early to say whether Tennessee would join other states in seeking to challenge the directive. But Haslam said the federal government should keep its hands out of local policies.
“When the long arm of government reaches in, in cases like this I don’t necessarily think the answers are better than letting our local school boards and superintendents deal with it,” Haslam said.
“The local folks have figured out how to handle this,” he said. “Let’s leave it there.”
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