Bill on apprentice program turns into argument over transgender bathrooms _lowres

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- State Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, addresses the Louisiana House last year.

The battle over transgender bathrooms nearly sidetracked Monday an effort to tap into a federal apprentice program to help train Louisiana workers.

State Rep. Michael Johnson, R-Bossier City, said as good as the program would be in training workers, it could fall under President Barack Obama’s recent directive forbidding institutions from discriminating against people whose gender identity differs from their sex at birth.

House Bill 1001 brings the language of an existing apprentice program, which currently has about 4,000 participants, in line with federal guidelines and thereby allow the state to receive a $10 million federal grant for the program, said Rep. Patrick Jefferson, the Homer Democrat who chairs the House Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations.

The program helps small businessmen teach their trade to apprentice employees.

The state Senate had added amendments that changed the applicable federal code, which the U.S. Labor Department said would make the program noncompliant and ineligible for the $10 million grant, Jefferson said.

To work out the differences in language, the bill went to a conference committee of three representatives and three senators, four of whom rejected the Senate amendments and put the legislation back in an earlier posture that is acceptable to the federal government.

Johnson warned that the 44-to-58 Louisiana companies participating in the apprenticeship program might fall under the federal order and eventually have to provide bathroom access based on what individuals believe is their gender identity.

“My suspicion is that some of these private companies that are benevolently participating in this program may not like that very much and may pull out,” Johnson said.

“We’re going pass up the ability to train these folks behind another straw man?” asked Democratic Rep. Sam Jones, of Franklin. “We passed up over $70 million of last mile, high speed internet connections over foolishness like this … How far are you going to take this?”

“Well, for a few pieces of silver, do we violate our core principles?” Johnson responded.

“Whose silver is it anyways? Don’t we pay taxes to the federal government?” Jones countered.

On the day Obama released his guidance letter for transgender issues, Johnson put together a petition asking Attorney General Jeff Landry to opine on Gov. John Bel Edwards’ order that state government not discriminate based on sexual orientation. Landry, who can’t give an opinion on federal guidance, said Edwards order was “aspirational” and didn’t have the force of law.

The House rejected Johnson’s arguments on HB1001 and went along with the revised language, approving the committee report on a vote of 63-31, which the Senate had approved an hour earlier.

HB1001 now heads to the governor.

Voting FOR complying with federal regulations on apprentice program (63): Reps Abraham, Abramson, Adams, Anders, Bagneris, Billiot, Bouie, C. Brown, Carpenter, G. Carter, R. Carter, Chaney, Connick, Cox, Danahay, Davis, Dwight, Foil, Franklin, Gaines, Gisclair, Glover, Guinn, Hall, J. Harris, Hazel, Hilferty, Hill, Hollis, Howard, Hunter, Ivey, Jackson, James, Jefferson, Jenkins, R. Johnson, Jones, Jordan, T. Landry, LeBas, Lopinto, Lyons, Magee, Marcelle, D. Miller, G. Miller, Montoucet, Moreno, Jim Morris, Norton, Pierre, Pope, Price, Reynolds, Richard, Shadoin, Smith, Stokes, Thibaut, White, Willmott and Zeringue.

Voting AGAINST HB1001 (32): Speaker Barras and Reps. Amedee, Bacala, Bagley, Berthelot, Carmody, S. Carter, Coussan, DeVillier, Edmonds, Emerson, Falconer, Garofalo, L. Harris, Henry, Hodges, Hoffmann, Horton, Huval, M. Johnson, N. Landry, Mack, Miguez, Jay Morris, Pearson, Pugh, Pylant, Schexnayder, Schroder, Seabaugh, Simon and Talbot.

Absent and Not Voting (10): Reps. Armes, Bishop, Broadwater, T. Brown, Cromer, Havard, Hensgens, Leger, Leopold and McFarland.

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