HELENA — The Montana House has endorsed a bill that would ban gender-affirming procedures for transgender youth.
Senate Bill 99, sponsored by Sen. John Fuller, R-Kalispell, passed 65-35 in a preliminary vote Thursday. All but three Republicans voted for it, while all Democrats voted against it.
In February, SB 99 had a contentious floor debate in the Senate. Things in the House did not get that heated, but it remained an emotionally charged discussion.
“I know this next issue is a very contentious one,” said Rep. Casey Knudsen, R-Malta, who presided over the floor debate. “All sides of this issue hold their positions very dearly. We are going to keep this very tight to the bill. I expect the body to hold this debate in a very respectful way.”
SB 99 would ban hormone treatments or surgeries for someone under 18 seeking to medically transition to a gender identity different from the sex they were assigned at birth. It would threaten health care providers who do provide those treatments with a yearlong suspension of their authority to practice, along with potential legal liability.
The bill would also prohibit state property and buildings from being used to “promote or advocate” social transitioning, like a person changing their preferred pronouns or dress.
Supporters of the bill said they were concerned about the long-term effects of gender-affirming procedures, and that it wasn’t unusual for the state to restrict what minors can consent to.
“It's important to remember that this bill is about permanent, life-altering medical procedures, and it's also important to remember we're not talking about adults, we're talking about children,” said Rep. Kerri Seekins-Crowe, R-Billings.
“Let's be clear: We're not saying don't transition; we're simply saying wait until you're 18,” said Rep. Terry Moore, R-Billings.
Opponents of the bill said the surgeries and hormone treatments outlined are done on more than just transgender youth, and prohibiting them only to that group was a form of discrimination. They said the restriction would interfere with families’ abilities to make medical decisions.
“The bottom line is that under this bill, only some Montanans can access care, only some parents can make the choices that they deem fit for their kids, only some kids can live their life as they choose,” said Rep. Laurie Bishop, D-Livingston.
Rep. Zooey Zephyr, D-Missoula, who is transgender, said legislation like this has a real impact on transgender people. Addressing members of that community, she urged them to seek support and said the debate on this issue is not over.
“We will be there for one another through this, and ultimately, we will win this fight in the end,” she said.
The bill will have a final vote in the House on Friday. Because lawmakers made some relatively small changes to the bill in the House, it will then have to go back to the Senate, for them to accept or reject the amendments.