Lawmakers push potty parity

Lawmakers can't hold it any longer. They're pushing for potty parity again in the federal workplace.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee members expressed support during a May 12 hearing for the 2010 Restroom Gender Parity in Federal Building Act (H.R. 4869), which would require new or renovated federal buildings to have an equal number of restroom facilities for both sexes.

"Public restrooms have been the site of institutional discrimination by race, physical ability and gender," said Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., committee chairman and the bill's main sponsor. Towns added, "Women are often forced to wait in long lines to use public restrooms, [while] men rarely have the same problem."

He blamed this on the fact that public buildings were built "before women had entered the workforce in large numbers, [during] a time when contractors, architects, engineers, builders and government procurement officials, were overwhelmingly male, and rarely considered the needs of women."

This is the second time Towns has tried to pass legislation establishing federal restroom parity. A 2007 bill requiring twice as many toilets in women's restrooms in federal facilities as the number of toilets and urinals in men's restrooms, stalled.

Robert Peck, commissioner of Public Buildings for the General Services Administration who testified at Wednesday's hearing, said gender parity in bathrooms has not been a priority at the agency. "We're mostly an office environment. We don't get the surge that you get at a ballgame or in a concert during intermission," he said.

The agency, which provides office space for more than 1 million federal employees and contractors, said its facility standards in most cases require an equal number of toilets in women's and men's bathrooms. Women's toilets outnumber men's toilets and urinals by a 3-2 ratio in its training and conference facilities, Peck said.

"I was not aware of any complaints … that indicate we have an inadequate number of women's facilities versus men's," said Peck, but he acknowledged GSA has more than 500 buildings built before the 1950s.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the committee's ranking member, was concerned the bill's mandated ratios would be arbitrary. He asked if there should be "further study to get the numbers more broadly right in the sense of future flexibility," to avoid implementing a blanket ruling for "a place that has surge versus one that doesn't, a place where women are younger versus older, a place where women are in evening gowns or flats."

Rep. Diane Watson, D-Calif., said, "Studies just delay this decision."

Towns agreed with Watson. "We really want to move this forward.…We do not need a lot of studies. I think this has been studied," he said.

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