BOISE, Idaho — Idaho moved closer Monday to banning transgender girls and women from competing on sports teams sponsored by public schools, colleges and universities -- despite warnings that the measure could be unconstitutional and challenged in court.
The Senate State Affairs Committee sent legislation to the full Senate, where it’s expected to be amended to address concerns about exams athletes could face to check their birth gender and to allow transgender opportunities to compete in ways that have not been yet made clear by lawmakers.
The measure last month overwhelmingly passed in the Republican-led state House of Representatives.
Under the legislation, girls’ and women’s teams would not be open to students who were born male, even if they identify as female. Opponents have warned that the legislation discriminates against a marginalized community.
“This bill is about one thing, and that’s protecting opportunities for girls and women in sports,” Republican Rep. Barbara Ehardt, one of the bill’s sponsors, told the committee.
Republican Sen. Mary Souza, a sponsor on the Senate side, said amendments to the bill could find a way for transgender athletes to compete. She did not elaborate, except to say that “having them taking the places of girls and women on girls’ and women’s teams is not something that we can condone,” she said.
The lawmakers said allowing transgender athletes on girls’ and women’s teams would negate nearly fifty years of progress women have made since the 1972 federal legislation credited with opening up sports to female athletes.
Legislation similar to the Idaho bill has been advancing in the Arizona Legislature, and Ehardt has said other states are considering following suit.
The amendments to the Idaho legislation brought up Monday haven’t been made public. But lawmakers who discussed them in broad terms during the committee meetings said they want to change language involving some of the testing requirements that opponents said were so invasive and traumatic they could dissuade girls from participating in sports.
As currently written, anyone could challenge the gender of athletes, requiring testing that involves external and internal exams to determine their birth gender.
“(Do) we want to subject our children to these highly invasive and uncomfortable procedures?” said Democratic Sen. Michelle Stennett, noting some of the girls could be so young to have never had similar exams. “All this does is cause trauma for life.”
GOP Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill made the motion to send the bill to the full Senate for amendments to deal with those and other concerns, and it passed on a party-line vote with both Democrats on the committee voting against.
Hill said the bill as written had unintended consequences with testing, but noted, “I’m in complete agreement with the goals and objectives” of the legislation.
The NCAA, which governs many college athletic programs, in 2016 disqualified North Carolina from hosting championship events after lawmakers there passed a “bathroom bill” considered anti-transgender. Lawmakers later repealed the law, and the NCAA lifted its ban. The NCAA has a policy allowing transgender athletes to compete.
It was not clear what action the NCAA might take in response if the legislation is signed into law. Boise State University’s football team, known for its blue-turf field, is frequently ranked in the top 25 in the nation.
(by Keith Ridler, Associated Press)