HELENA — Republicans in the state Senate Tuesday advanced a bill restricting transgender student athletes in Montana – but not before attaching an amendment that could void the law in the future.
On a 29-21 vote, the Senate gave preliminary approval to House Bill 112, which says student athletes can play on a school team only that aligns with their “biological sex” – essentially banning transgender athletes from the team for their new sexual identity.
All votes for the measure came from Republican senators; 19 Democrats and two Republicans – Sens. Brian Hoven of Great Falls and Dan Salomon of Ronan – opposed it.
Yet Salomon earlier succeeded in attaching an amendment, which said if the U.S. Education Department issues a “letter of impending enforcement action” that says the law violates federal anti-discrimination law, the Montana ban will be voided.
Salomon said if HB112 becomes law, Montana could lose millions of dollars in federal education funding, and noted that the Big Sky Conference has said if the bill passes, Montana colleges won’t be hosting any conference playoff games.
“The reason I’m bringing this (amendment) is I don’t want to see the state’s education system be harmed,” he said.
Salomon’s amendment passed 27-23, with nine Republicans and 18 Democrats supporting it.
HB112 and another bill restricting treatment of transgender youth have been among the most hotly debated bills of the session, with opponents arguing the measures will make Montana a national pariah, hurting business, tourism and, potentially, federal funding.
HB112 now faces a final Senate vote before returning to the House, which will vote on whether to accept the amended version and send it to Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte for his signature.
The other bill, HB427, awaits action in the Senate. GOP leaders said this week they’re not sure when it will be on the floor.
Supporters of HB112 said Tuesday the restriction on transgender athletes is meant to protect women and girls from unfair competition by men who have transitioned to women.
Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, invoked the memory of Adolph Hitler’s propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, for his use of the “big lie” technique of repeating a lie to the point that it appears true.
“Let me give you some contemporary lies,” he said. “If you are born white, you are a racist. Another one -- man can change the climate. Or another one -- a man can become a woman, or a woman can become a man.”
He said men transitioning to women are a threat to women’s sports, and that other states are passing similar laws against this threat.
Opponents of the bill said not only will the measure hurt Montana’s reputation, but it also won’t protect women in sports and is not supported by most women athletes.
Sen. Jen Gross, D-Billings, said just enforcing the law would lead to gross invasions of privacy of women athletes.
“This bill claims to protect women, but it does the exact opposite,” she said. “Whose job is it going to be to pull down the young woman’s pants and examine her genitalia?
Sen. Pat Flowers, D-Bozeman, said he asked his daughters, who are athletes, if they feared competition from transgender foes. He said they consider the bill “unnecessary and cruel,” and said their fellow female athletes felt the same.
“(This) bill is worse than a solution in search of a problem,” he said. “It will become the problem.”