Sen. Mary Souza HB 500a

Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, opens debate on HB 500a, the transgender athletes bill, on Monday, March 16, 2020, in the Idaho Senate.

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The Senate has begun its debate on HB 500, the transgender athletes bill, which forbids transgender women or girls from playing on teams that match their gender identities in high school or college sports. Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, opened the debate by citing the 100th anniversary of women getting the vote in the United States, and mentioned the passage of Title IV and the impact it had on expanding women’s sports. She said she believes that advancement is now threatened because girls participating in sports could face “biological males who want to compete against them.”

Souza said, “Transgender women have a heightened ability to build strength even after they transition. … It is not fair. Boys will always have a physical advantage over girls. That’s the reason we have women’s sports.”

“Girls’ sports must be protected for girls,” Souza said.

Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, told the Senate, “These are our children.” She noted that even with the Senate’s amendments, which adjusted the medical testing requirements so they can include one of three types of tests when a player’s gender is challenged rather than requiring all three, the bill sets no limits on who can challenge a young female player’s gender, thereby forcing her to undergo medical examinations. “Opposing coaches, jilted teammates, anonymous foes, angry parents,” Stennett said. “You as a parent would be forced to pay for such examinations. Even if that athlete was able to refute that allegation, that suspicion and that humiliation would stay with her forever.”

“This bill risks harming the emotional and physical health of our children,” Stennett said.

Sen. Maryanne Jordan, D-Boise, read from an Idaho Attorney General’s opinion that opened, “I have concerns about the defensibility of the proposed legislation,” citing numerous constitutional issues with the bill, including that it requires gender identification for some, but not all, student athletes, which the opinion called “constitutionally problematic.”

“This bill is not only a solution in search of a problem, but an unnecessary piece of legislation in search of a court case,” Jordan told the Senate. She noted that Idaho’s business community is “literally imploring us not to do this.”

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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