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

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Auditor John Dougall said Wednesday he has been unable to substantiate several allegations made against state agencies regarding failure to comply with the new law. the state restricting bathroom access to transgender people.

Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, sponsored HB257 earlier this year, which restricts transgender people's access to restrooms in public facilities and narrowly defines “male” and “female” in state code. The law also directs Dougall's office to establish a process to investigate allegations that public entities are not complying with the new law.

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

Although he said his office typically handles several hundred complaints each year, he said his staff was quickly able to identify “false” complaints, thanks to pseudonyms and comments provided that were demonstrably false.

Dougall criticized state lawmakers for turning him into the state's “restroom monitor” and made clear his office would not investigate allegations that individuals were using restrooms that did not fit. their biological sex. He said the office's sole job was to investigate allegations that state agencies were not following the law.

“Furthermore, we will not investigate the actions of any individual, nor will we investigate or determine the sex or gender of anyone,” he said in May. “We are under no obligation – and have no desire – to intrude into the most intimate aspects of a person's life. With this in mind, we remind the public that under the law and the Criminal Code of Utah, an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy in a “private space.” If we receive obscene or voyeuristic images, we will promptly report them to law enforcement.”

Out of more than 10,000 complaints received, the office “identified five complaints that may be 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 although his office could not substantiate the allegation, it found that the department “did not have a privacy compliance plan.”

“We have reminded Corrections of their duty to adopt a compliance plan and have given them 30 days to do so,” Dougall’s statement said.

He said his office has since received a sixth complaint about a similar lack of privacy plan in the East Building of the state Capitol complex, where Senate offices are located. Dougall's office contacted the Capitol Preservation Board and the Division of Facilities Construction and Management and learned that neither had adopted compliance plans for Capitol restrooms.

“The office also did not know which entity was responsible for drafting and adopting a compliance plan for the Capitol complex,” Dougall said.

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

“It should be noted that there is a lack of clarity as to which entity has a duty to adopt a privacy compliance plan in situations where multiple entities share use or control of facilities for which a plan is required,” he added.

Dougall said his office “continues to review the complaints submitted” but added that “nearly all of the complaints” received in June were false.

“We have completed our investigations and are not investigating any further complaints at this time,” he said. “As we identify credible or good faith complaints, we will investigate them in accordance with legal requirements.”

HB257 is the latest and highest-profile legislative effort related to transgender people after lawmakers banned gender-related surgeries for minors and banned transgender girls from competing in high school sports. Birkeland, the sponsor of HB257, said it aims to protect the privacy of women and girls in restrooms, locker rooms and other private spaces in public buildings.

The bill also requires newly constructed buildings to be equipped with adequate single-stall toilets, but does not specify a timeline for retrofitting older buildings.

Opponents of the bill said it targets an already vulnerable population and that the measures do not significantly 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-passed federal rule that prohibits discrimination based on gender identity or l sexual orientation. Lawmakers said the federal rule conflicts with HB257 and that “state sovereignty” should supersede the regulation.

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