Auditor releases update on investigations into alleged violations of Utah's bathroom bill

Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Jan. 26. Utah's auditor said he couldn't substantiate allegations of violations of the law restricting transgender restroom access but called on state agencies to adopt compliance plans.

Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Jan. 26. Utah's auditor said he couldn't substantiate allegations of violations of the law restricting transgender restroom access but called on state agencies to adopt compliance plans. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)


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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Auditor John Dougall on Wednesday said he has not been able to substantiate several allegations levied against state agencies of noncompliance with the state's new law restricting restroom access to transgender individuals.

Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, sponsored HB257 earlier this year, which restricts access for transgender people in restrooms in state-owned facilities and narrowly defines both "male" and "female" in state code. The law also tasked Dougall's office with establishing a process to investigate allegations that public entities were not abiding with the new statute.

Dougall launched an online complaint form to comply with the law in early May, which was quickly flooded with thousands of "frivolous complaints" from apparent activists who were angry about the passage of HB257. He said the majority of complaints seemed to be a "form of protest" against the law.

Though he said his office typically handles several hundred complaints each year, he said his staff was quickly able to identify the "bogus" complaints, thanks to aliases and comments provided that were obviously fake.

Dougall slammed state lawmakers for turning him into the state "bathroom monitor" and made clear his office would not investigate allegations that individuals used a restroom that didn't correspond with their biological sex. He said the office's only duty was to investigate claims that state agencies were not following the law.

"Further, we will not investigate the actions of any private individuals, nor will we investigate or determine anyone's sex or gender," he stated in May. "We are not required — and have no desire — to intrude on the most intimate aspects of a person's life. In this vein, we remind the public that under both the statute and Utah Criminal Code, an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy in a 'privacy space.' If we receive lewd or voyeuristic images, we will promptly refer those to law enforcement."

Of the more than 10,000 complaints received, the office "identified five complaints that were possible good-faith efforts to identify potential violations of HB257," Dougall said in a statement Wednesday. The fifth complaint involved the Utah Department of Corrections, and though his office couldn't substantiate the allegation, it found the department "did not have a privacy compliance plan."

"We reminded corrections of its duty to adopt a compliance plan and have allowed them 30 days to do so," Dougall's statement said.

He said his office has since received a sixth complaint for a similar lack of privacy compliance plan in the east building of the state Capitol complex, where the Senate offices are housed. Dougall's office reached out to both the Capitol Preservation Board and the Division of Facilities Construction and Management and learned that neither had adopted compliance plans for the restrooms at the Capitol.

"It was also unclear to the office which entity is responsible to draft and adopt a compliance plan for the Capitol complex," Dougall said.

He granted 30 days for one of the two agencies to adopt a plan.

"Of note, there is a lack of clarity regarding which entity has the duty to adopt a privacy compliance plan in situations when multiple entities either share use or control of facilities for which a plan is required," he added.

Dougall said his office "continues to screen submitted complaints" but said, "Almost all of the complaints" received in June were bogus.

"We have completed our investigations and are not investigating any other complaints at this time," he said. "As we identify credible or good-faith complaints, we will investigate those pursuant to the statutory requirement."

HB257 is the most recent high-profile legislative effort related to transgender people after lawmakers banned gender-related surgeries for minors and barred transgender girls from competing in high school sports. Birkeland, the sponsor of HB257, has said it is meant to protect the privacy of women and girls in restrooms, locker rooms and other privacy spaces in state buildings.

The bill also requires newly constructed buildings to provide adequate single-stall restrooms but does not specify a time frame for older buildings to be updated.

Opponents of the bill said it targets an already vulnerable population and that the measures don't meaningfully increase the privacy or safety of women and girls in restrooms.

The Legislature met Wednesday afternoon in a special legislative session to vote to ignore a soon-to-be enacted federal rule that prohibits discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. Lawmakers said the federal rule conflicts with HB257, and "state sovereignty" should supersede the regulation.

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Bridger Beal-Cvetko covers Utah politics, Salt Lake County communities and breaking news for KSL.com. He is a graduate of Utah Valley University.

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