Senate passes transgender athletics ban

After an hour of debate — centering on several familiar talking points — the Senate passed a controversial transgender athletics bill late Monday afternoon.

The 24-11 vote brings House Bill 500 one step closer to Gov. Brad Little’s desk. But there’s one step in between: even though the House passed the bill on Feb. 26, it will have to vote to decide whether to sign on with the Senate’s amendments.

The objective, however, remains unchanged: HB 500 would ban transgender girls and women from playing in girls’ and women’s sports.

Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene

Supporters have titled the bill the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, and say it is a necessary step to preserve the opportunities the landmark 1972 Title IX law granted female athletes. Today’s female athletes “deserve a fair chance” to meet their goals, said Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, the bill’s Senate co-sponsor.

But Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, called HB 500 a “repugnant” bill that takes away rights from transgender girls and women. “This bill is rooted in fear and misinformation.”

Other issues punctuated Monday’s debate:

Constitutionality. Sen. Maryanne Jordan, D-Boise, cited a Feb. 25 attorney general’s opinion that said HB 500 is fraught with several legal pitfalls. Said Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, “This bill is riddled with issues that will land us in court.”

Souza downplayed the attorney general’s opinion, saying the bill has been amended twice since the opinion was written. I don’t think that (opinion) is really relevant.”

Exams. Souza said the state forms for student-athletes should resolve most questions of gender. “The determination of biological sex is needed only in a dispute.”

Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum

But Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said the bill still opens up the possibility that students, of any age, could be subject to an examination of their reproductive anatomy. “One child is one child too many.”

Privacy. The State Board of Education will have to write rules to implement HB 500, Souza said, and that will safeguard student data. “(The board has) a federal responsibility to keep these things confidential.”

Sen. Jim Guthrie of McCammon was unconvinced. “Let’s not kid our ourselves. It will not be confidential,” said Guthrie, one of four Republicans who voted against HB 500. “Everybody will know why that girl is not playing.”

Need. Opponents pointed out that Idaho has not seen a dispute regarding a transgender athlete. “(This is) an unnecessary piece of legislation in search of a court case,” Jordan said.

Souza urged senators to head off a patchwork of local policies, before Idaho starts to see the same disputes that have surfaced in other states.

“It’s coming,” she said. “It’s a great time now for Idaho to set a consistent policy.”

Roll call

Yes: Jeff Agenbroad, R-Nampa; Kelly Anthon, R-Burley; Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot; Regina Bayer, R-Meridian; Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson; Van Burtenshaw, R-Terreton; Don Cheatham, R-Post Falls; Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville; Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian; C. Scott Grow, R-Eagle; Mark Harris, R-Soda Springs; Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls; Brent Hill, R-Rexburg; Todd Lakey, R-Nampa; Dave Lent, R-Idaho Falls; Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston; Fred Martin, R-Boise; Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls; Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls; Jim Rice, R-Caldwell; Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene; Steven Thayn, R-Emmett; Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens; Chuck Winder, R-Boise.
No: Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise; Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise; Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon; Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston; Maryanne Jordan, D-Boise; Abby Lee, R-Fruitland; David Nelson, D-Moscow; Mark Nye, D-Pocatello; Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum; Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise; Jim Woodward, R-Sagle.

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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