Women's restroom shortage is out of line, lawmakers say

By Dana Milbank
Thursday, May 13, 2010

There are times when the legislative plumbing gets clogged, when frustration overflows, when the American people must pull up their collective trousers and reach for the plunger.

Now is just such a time.

"This is not a minor issue," Chairman Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) pronounced as he convened a hearing Wednesday of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

"I think we need to approach this, as our chairman has, with the urgency of now," added Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). "It is an urgent situation. . . . I'm talking about the urgency of this moment."

And what is this urgent situation that inspired the lawmaker to echo the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s phrase about the "fierce urgency of now"? King fought for racial justice. Towns and his colleagues are fighting for ladies' toilets.

"I am certain that every woman in this room has frequently experienced the inconvenience, as well as the discomfort, caused by an insufficient number of women's restroom facilities," the chairman announced. His solution: H.R. 4869, the Restroom Gender Parity in Federal Buildings Act -- known as "potty parity."

In the past, similar proposals have fallen victim to stall tactics. But by scheduling Wednesday's hearing, lawmakers proved they are now ready to plumb for solutions to this vexing problem.

There are those who might say that, in the swirl of big issues, Congress probably has something better to do than fret about plumbing. Afghanistan's president is in town, there's a new Supreme Court nominee, and the Gulf of Mexico is turning into an oil drum. But the forces for W.C. equality can no longer fight the urge.

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), one of the witnesses, said the importance of the issue came to him while he was waiting for his date at a concert. "The women's line was tremendously long," he testified. "There were women jumping into the men's line and joining in the men's restroom. A lot of beer was served. . . . There were women in distress."

The chairman had a similar lavatory epiphany while waiting for his wife, stuck in a long restroom line during intermission at a play. "I'm getting really agitated," Towns recalled. "The second act was going to start."

The lawmaker reacted as lawmakers usually do. He decided there oughta be a law.

The bill is called gender parity, but really the proponents want preferential treatment for women, simply because women for some reason refuse to use urinals. Something here doesn't smell right.

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