CONCORD A state Senate bill currently going through the House would establish an anti-discrimination law for public schools that proponents say will better empower those facing prejudice in the classroom.

Senate Bill 263, which went before the House Education Committee Wednesday, would outlaw discrimination against people in schools based on age, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, color, religion and other reasons. It would also enable the state attorney general's office to take action in discrimination complaints in public schools.

"That's a whole new avenue that is now open if that bill were to pass," said Rogers Johnson, chairman of the Governor's Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion. "Having this one particular law gives individuals the opportunity for action against a school district."

Supporters say New Hampshire is one of the few states in the Northeast that lacks school state-level discrimination laws and relies solely on federal law. The bill pass the Senate March 28 by a vote of 20 to 3.

The bill's sponsor, state Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye, said he was contacted by a member of the Governor's Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion about filing the bill. The council has been holding listening sessions around the state hearing from Granite Staters on their experiences with diversity and discrimination in New Hampshire, using that feedback to make legislative and policy recommendations.

Sherman said the law establishes protections that already exist elsewhere in the state. He said the bill's language was lifted almost directly from the state's law on workplace discrimination.

"We have this protection in every other aspect of our lives except the schools," Sherman said. "You have in issue in the school, you (could) go to the school for it to be corrected based on state statute, versus having to go to a federal attorney, a federal prosecutor."

The bill received opposition from some who are concerned the law would lead to disputes over co-ed individual sports like track and wrestling. Sherman said the topic was raised with the broad question, "What about sports?"

State Rep. Ralph Boehm, R-Litchfield, said he recognizes girls and boys commonly play on each other's teams in sports like football, but he said he is concerned boys and transgender girls would have an unfair edge physically if they compete in individualized sports for girls. He said he would prefer the law be adjusted to allow certain sports to keep having students separated by gender.

"It's when you get into the individual sports like track," Boehm said. "With boys going into women's track, and naturally, they're going to win."

State Rep. Patricia Cornell, D-Manchester, believes the change Boehm fears is not the intent of the bill, but instead to help students facing a broad range of discrimination, not only with gender but also race and religion.

"I can see the concern, but I don't think it's going to be as much of a problem as some people think it might be," Cornell said. "I think if it does happen, it can be dealt with at that time. I think as with any non-discrimination bill, people find the most obscure problem with it."