FRANKFORT, Ky. — In a last-minute switch Thursday, Republicans revived an omnibus anti-LGBTQ bill, which includes a ban on gender-affirming health care for Kentucky’s transgender youth.
Less than a day after Senate Republicans voted to dramatically scale back a bill that many in the party said went too far because it left trans kids with no health care options, state Sen. Max Wise, a Campbellsville Republican, and state Rep. David Meade, a Stanford Republican, introduced an amended version of Senate Bill 150 that would do just that. It passed the House with near-unanimous Republican support, 75-22.
It’s the latest sign of disunity among Kentucky Republicans in a session marked by a raft of GOP legislation to combat “woke” issues. The final days of the Legislature’s regular session have revealed division and infighting among the political majority as they grapple with how far to wade into national culture wars.
Before the House Education Committee Thursday morning, Wise and Meade introduced an amendment to Senate Bill 150. The bill in its original form prohibits schools from requiring or recommending teachers use a trans student’s preferred pronouns, and required schools to notify parents when curriculum related to human sexuality was going to be taught.
On top of that, it now includes portions of House Bill 177, banning “any child regardless of grade level” from receiving presentation or instruction “studying or exploring gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation.”
It also includes a provision potentially restricting transgender students’ use of school bathrooms. The bill requires that schools develop a bathroom policy that protects students’ “privacy rights” as outlined in a section that condemns allowing trans students to use a bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. That section does not mandate that schools or districts ban trans students from using a bathroom that corresponds with their identity, but strongly suggests they should.
And, perhaps most notably, Wise’s amended bill revives earlier versions of House Bill 470 from state Rep. Jennifer Decker, a Waddy Republican, to enact an outright ban on all gender-affirming care for youth with gender dysphoria in Kentucky. It would outlaw the standard of care treatment for this population by outlawing gender reassignment surgery, the prescription of puberty blockers and hormones, and in-patient and outpatient gender-affirming hospital services for anyone under age 18.
When asked by state Rep. Tina Bojanowski, a Louisville Democrat, whether they consulted health care providers or families of trans Kentuckians, Meade said hastily that they had.
“I think that, as you saw in the testimony on the floor and in committee, there is evidence this is harmful to children,” Meade said, referencing people who testified in favour of Decker’s bill, most of whom were from out of state. Doctors on behalf of the Kentucky Medical Association, the Kentucky chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and American Psychological Association testified in strong opposition to the bill. “Our job is to protect children, and that’s what we’re doing here,” Meade added.
The committee passed the amended omnibus bill, but not along party lines.
After voting no, state Rep. Killian Timoney, a Lexington Republican, said, “You can’t throw a brick at a school without hitting the kid with an identity issue. I mean, that’s what schools are about, particularly middle and high.
“I think that it’s more important to support kids through the process than it is to pass legislation on who they are,” Timoney added, saying his “no” vote was informed by his faith.
“I know it’s tied to people’s values,” he said, with tears beginning to form in his eyes. “I’m not going to comment on how my values might be different, but I just know that when I stand before God on my judgment day, he’s gonna say, ‘Who did you love?’ And I’m gonna say ‘Everybody.’”
Chris Hartman, executive director of the Fairness Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group, called the committee substitute a “cheap, eleventh-hour” trick because “you cannot get this done any other way.”
Hartman, shouting, told the committee, “You will have spent more time debating transgender children and their rights and their parents’ rights to obtain the life-saving medical care that they need than childhood poverty, than housing insecurity, than disaster relief, in this session combined.”
Mason Chernosky, a trans man, echoed Hartman’s complaints against the process by which the bill was changed on the last day before the veto break. He said that Democrats and LGBTQ advocates didn’t know about the committee meeting until mere moments before it began.
“Trans people are always going to be here. Trans kids are always going to be here. That is the message. I want people to hear that no matter what, we are going to live through this. We have lived through so much worse and we can live through this too,” Chernosky said.
Rep. Josie Raymond, a Louisville Democrat who voted against the original version of House Bill 470 and again voted no on Thursday in committee, said, through tears, “This harms kids in every single school in this commonwealth. If you don’t believe me, you just don’t know it. I’m embarrassed and I’m appalled, and I’m scared. And I vote no.”
After easy passage in the House, it’s not clear if the Senate will concur with the altered SB 150, as the GOP caucus showed Wednesday night it is still deeply divided on how far to take limits on care for trans kids.
House Democrats – who often took several minutes each to speak against the bill, and nearly all held forth for a long time on the floor – commented on the legislation much more than their Republican counterparts.
Some of them attempted to scuttle the bill via parliamentary procedure.
State Rep. Keturah Herron, a Louisville Democrat, called a point of order expressing a grievance against the rushed process by which SB 150 was changed. She made a motion to lay the bill on the table, delaying it for further consideration. That failed 22-73, with only two Republicans joining the 20 House Democrats in the 100-member body.
House Democratic leaders Rep. Rachel Roberts, of Newport, and Rep. Derrick Graham, of Frankfort, both tried different avenues — Roberts tried to “divide the question” into separate bills, while Graham tried to get House Speaker David Osborne, a Prospect Republican, to rule the committee substitute not germane to the original bill.
Roberts criticized Republicans for creating a “bogeyman” in trans children.
“The bogeyman doesn’t exist. That is a lesson this body needs to learn. I don’t want to sit here, wasting our time on political point bogeymen for your reelection campaign while we harm real constituents,” Roberts said.
State Rep. Lisa Willner, of Louisville, was one of many Democrats that took several minutes on the House floor decrying the bill.
Willner said that she found a language change on the title of the bill to be fitting.
“The title used to be ‘an act related to the protection of children.’ Quite rightly, that language has been removed. This is now just ‘an act relating to children.’ This act does relate to children, but it’s not about protecting them,” Willner said. “I thank you, at least, for that one bit of sincerity.”
Raymond predicted that there would be an exodus of Kentuckians from the state due to the legislation.
“This harms kids in every school in Kentucky. If you don’t think that’s true, you’re naive and you’re not listening … We’re going to lose our kids to suicide or to migration, and not jut the trans ones either. We’re going to lose the cisgender ones who say ‘Kentucky’s moving backwards, and fast.’”
George Brown Jr., a Lexington Democrat, said that late Wednesday night after the House’s contentious vote on Senate Bill 5, that a group of Republicans referred to the 18 Democratic members who voted against that bill as “derelicts” and “heretics,” and that they didn’t care about the children of the commonwealth.
State Rep. Daniel Grossberg, a Louisville Democrat, shared that he struggled with his own development as a child. He hit puberty much later than average, at the age of 17, and once considered taking his life as a result.
He tried to add an amendment that would’ve required the Kentucky Department of Education to record the number of students who use different pronouns and number who have attempted or considered suicide. His motion to consider that amendment failed.
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