Lawmakers overturn Gov. Cox’s veto on transgender athlete bill, make change immediately after

Mar 25, 2022, 7:33 PM | Updated: Mar 28, 2022, 9:38 am
(The Senate meeting to discuss overturning Gov. Cox's veto.  Photo: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News, Ma...
(The Senate meeting to discuss overturning Gov. Cox's veto. Photo: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News, March 25, 2022)
(The Senate meeting to discuss overturning Gov. Cox's veto. Photo: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News, March 25, 2022)

SALT LAKE CITY — After emotional statements and protests outside of the Utah State Capitol, the legislature voted Friday to overturn the governor’s veto on the transgender athlete bill. Lawmakers tried to make three changes to it, but only one change made it through.

Ten Republican lawmakers in the House and five in the Senate changed their votes. It gave both chambers enough votes to overturn the governor’s veto. However, Senator Daniel Thatcher said he couldn’t support any bill that would exclude transgender student-athletes. Even, if it costs him his seat in an upcoming election.

Thatcher said, “So that I could win with the delegates, so that I could show that I’m conservative.  In my world, being conservative doesn’t mean turning your back on your principles. It does not mean voting against the constitution.”

Transgender athlete bill

In the end, H.B. 11 sponsor Rep. Kera Birkeland said the transgender athlete bill was about protecting women’s sports. And keeping female athletes on a fair playing field. She said Title IX was created specifically to provide women a way to participate in athletics programs. Also, she said allowing transgender girls to compete when they have an athletic advantage is essentially like telling other girls to “sit down and be quiet.”

She acknowledged that outside groups may decide not to bring their events to Utah. However, she said lawmakers should stand behind female athletes.

Birkeland said, “I’m not worried about what outside organizations may come and do in our state, or not do in our state.  Let’s be proud of who we have in our state. And let the free market explode here when we get behind women.  That’s what I believe we’re doing.”

One change goes forward

Governor Spencer Cox called for the special session immediately after the overwrite session to fix what he believes are flaws in the law. Lawmakers voted for a substitute version of the bill that would make it so school districts would be held blameless if a lawsuit is filed.  The state set aside $500,000 for upcoming legal challenges, but critics like Rep. Andrew Stoddard said that’s not enough money to cover legal costs.

He said, “We’re opening ourselves up to millions of dollars of litigation on a policy that we know is likely to be held as unconstitutional. In fact, I believe we’re planning on it being held unconstitutional by the fact that we’ve passed a bill that has a back-up.”

Birkeland disagreed, saying, “Litigation was likely coming whether we did anything today, or not.”

The proposed changes that failed

Rep. Karen Kwan tried to introduce a substitute bill that would replace H.B. 11 with the policies that were already established by the Utah High School Activities Association. She said the state needs to have a policy in place if the courts overturn the law.

“This is something that is not and should not be a ‘done deal’ as we continue to learn more about our students and about the science,” she said.

Her substitute bill was shot down, with Birkeland calling the UHSAA’s policy “flawed.”

Senator Luz Escamilla said the law could have an unintended consequence which could hurt cisgender girls.  She says the law makes it possible for someone to demand an investigation into a girl’s athletic performance if they’re taller or stronger than the other competitors.

Escamilla said, “A random person, whether it’s an angry parent or a mean person can now go to the commission and question a girl’s eligibility based on the way they look.”

Her substitute bill also failed.

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Lawmakers overturn Gov. Cox’s veto on transgender athlete bill, make change immediately after