House passes transgender athletics ban

After more than an hour of debate — punctuated by claims and counterclaims over access and fairness — the House passed a controversial transgender athletics bill on Wednesday.

House Bill 500, which would ban transgender girls and women from playing in girls’ and women’s sports, heads next to the Senate.

Urging her colleagues to pass HB 500, the bill’s sponsor said the state cannot afford to wait on the issue. “Make no mistake, there would be discrimination,” said Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls. “It would be against girls and women.”

In several respects, Wednesday’s House debate and vote mirrored what unfolded in two House committees over the preceding 14 days.

Ehardt, a former college basketball player and coach, argued that HB 500 is needed to ensure girls and women can still compete in high school and college athletics.

Opponents questioned the need for the law, pointing out that no one has ever challenged an athlete’s eligibility under the state’s current rule — which aligns with NCAA and International Olympic Committee policy. Under state policy, a transgender athlete can participate in girls’ or women’s sports after completing a year of hormone therapy.

In the end, the outcome wasn’t close. It wasn’t a strict party-line vote — like the House Education Committee’s Feb. 12 vote to introduce the bill, and the House State Affairs Committee’s Thursday vote to send the bill to the House floor. The House passed the bill on a 52-17 vote, with Republicans Greg Chaney of Caldwell, Bill Goesling of Moscow and Caroline Nilsson Troy of Genesee joining Democrats in opposition.

But Democrats led the fight against the bill on the House floor. Half of the House’s 14 Democrats debated against HB 500.

Rep. Muffy Davis, a seven-time Paralympic Games medalist in alpine skiing and cycling, questioned the need for a state law that is more restrictive than NCAA and IOC policy. Her voice shaking, Davis said HB 500 would cause further damage to “marginalized” transgender girls and women.

“Think about those young girls who have been living with difference all their life,” said Davis, D-Ketchum.

Bolstered by a critical attorney general’s opinion, which she made public Tuesday, House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel said HB 500 would leave Idaho on the losing end of another costly constitutional challenge.

“This bill is unabashedly sex-based discrimination,” said Rubel, D-Boise.

Rep. John McCrostie, D-Garden City, chided his colleagues for referring to transgender girls and women as biological boys and men. Referring to transgender girls and women as “she” is not “woke,” said McCrostie, but simply a matter of being polite and respectful.

Only two Republicans debated in favor of the bill — Gary Marshall of Idaho Falls and Brent Crane of Nampa — leaving Ehardt the job of defending HB 500.

Ehardt challenged the claim that athletes would be required to undergo an invasive pelvic exam in order to prove their gender. She said a physician could determine an athlete’s gender without an exam. But according to the bill’s wording, a physician “shall” determine gender, in part, by reviewing “the student’s internal and external reproductive anatomy.”

Ehardt disputed the claim that a state law would violate NCAA protections under the  interstate Commerce Clause, jeopardizing Idaho collegiate athletic programs in the process. “This will be Idaho’s policy. It will only affect Idaho’s athletes.”

And lawsuits are inevitable, Ehardt said, even if the state doesn’t pass HB 500. In other states, parents of female athletes have sued because their children have lost roster spots to transgender athletes.

After the end of Wednesday’s lengthy debate, lawmakers adjourned for lunch — and the discussion continued in the hallway.

A dozen protesters stood in the Rotunda outside House chambers, applauding and embracing legislators who opposed HB 500, scolding and jeering legislators who supported the bill.

The Senate would get the next word. It’s unclear when or if a Senate committee will take up the bill.


Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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