HELENA — The Montana Senate got involved in heated debates Tuesday, before giving preliminary approval to a bill that would ban gender-affirming procedures for transgender youth.
Senators endorsed Senate Bill 99, sponsored by Sen. John Fuller, R-Kalispell, with 28 Republicans in favor and five Republicans joining all 16 Democrats in opposition.
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 for up to 25 years.
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 SB 99 said gender-affirming procedures can create long-lasting effects, and it’s reasonable for the state to determine minors shouldn’t be able to consent to them.
“Senate Bill 99 does not stop transitioning, it only says, ‘Wait till you’re 18,’” said Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell.
Opponents said the bill would keep transgender youth from receiving medically approved treatment and infringe on families’ rights to make medical decisions.
“Prohibiting young people and their parents the opportunity to use medical treatment that works is not a neutral act,” said Sen. Kathy Kelker, D-Billings.
The heated exchanges began when Democratic leaders repeatedly objected to supporters of the bill comparing gender transition surgeries to “amputations” and to now-outdated medical procedures. They called such statements offensive.
“I’m going to ask one more time: Let’s leave that language out of this discussion; there’s no place for it here,” said Sen. Pat Flowers, D-Belgrade, the Senate minority leader. “There’s no reference to that in gender-affirming medical treatment. Let’s establish a little decorum, Mr. Chair, and stop reference to amputation right now.”
Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls, the Senate majority leader, responded to the objections.
“I can understand the view of the minority here, but I do think at some point we have to let people discuss this bill and discuss it freely,” he said. “There's language on this floor that gets used all the time that I don't necessarily approve of. But I don't think anybody here is breaching decorum by the simple fact that we're using terms and making analogies.”
“Let’s finish the debate; I think we all know how we’re going to vote, so let’s get to it,” he added.
After more than an hour of debate, the session was briefly delayed over a rules dispute. After Fuller made his final statement, and as the chair began calling for a vote on the bill, Flowers made a motion to indefinitely postpone it. He argued that motion had to come after the debate was over, but Fitzpatrick objected, saying it had been made too late.
The Senate remained “at ease” for several minutes as Republican and Democratic leaders debated the rules at the center of the chamber. Eventually, Flowers said they still disagreed over the rule interpretation, but he withdrew the motion. Senators then continued the preliminary vote.
SB 99 is set for a final vote in the Senate on Wednesday. If it passes, it will move on to the Montana House.