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Bill criminalizing gender care for trans youth clears hurdle in Idaho Legislature

March 17, 2023 Updated Fri., March 17, 2023 at 10:07 p.m.

By Audrey Dutton Idaho Capital Sun

A few Idaho state senators from both major political parties said in a Friday committee hearing that they can’t support an existing bill to criminalize all gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth – but the committee’s Republicans were open to supporting an amended version.

The Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee sent House Bill 71 to the full Senate, where it will be subject to amendments. An amended bill would then have to go back through the House for approval before it could be sent to the governor for consideration.

The committee heard hours of public testimony from bill supporters and opponents before taking up debate and a vote.

Committee members who support the intent of the bill said they’re concerned about allowing medical care that might permanently change a minor’s body.

At least one person who testified pointed out that going through puberty also causes changes to an adolescent’s body, unless they take puberty blockers.

Lawmakers grappled with which of those issues is more concerning.

Committee debates which changes to make to bill

The bill’s Senate sponsor, Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, said she would like to amend the bill to decouple it from a law that makes female genital mutilation illegal.

Other senators in the committee said they want more changes to the legislation. Sending the bill to the Senate’s amending order could lead to small changes or an entirely new bill.

The theme of “parental rights” flowed through the public testimony – and through the committee’s debate on the bill.

How much a transgender person alters their appearance or body “is defined by the individual, and I think that’s the big kicker here,” said Chelsea Gaona-Lincoln, executive director of Add The Words, testifying in support of the bill. “And what the bill would do is remove the ability for people to define that for themselves, and parents to be able to help their children to define that, and I don’t think that’s a slippery slope that this body wants to take on.”

Sen. Linda Wright Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, said she has talked with “many, many parents and a few of the youth as well” about the bill.

Hartgen said that, throughout the session, legislators have championed the principle of parental rights in other matters – but not this one.

“Once you have parental rights, you have parental rights, and we cannot flip-flop on what we are going to choose to support and what we choose not to support,” Hartgen said.

She wants “a lot” of the bill to be removed when it’s amended, keeping only the provision that makes it illegal to perform transition surgeries on a minor. That provision has broad support, as those surgeries already aren’t performed on minors because they are not considered the standard of care.

Sen. Abby Lee, R-Fruitland, said she believes there are “some things that we fundamentally agree on” in the legislation – and some things in it “that are maybe not statements of fact” that might need to be cleared up, she said.

“But this is not an issue that is going to go away,” and lawmakers are going to have to address it, she said.

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