Reclaim Idaho debate

Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, addresses audience members during a Reclaim Idaho town hall at the Senior Center on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019.

BOISE — A Senate committee may vote Monday on a bill to ban transgender girls and women from competing on female high school and college sports teams.

The Senate State Affairs Committee took two hours of testimony on the bill Friday morning, then adjourned and will continue the hearing Monday. The Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, which is being sponsored by Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, and Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, already passed the House, so if it makes it out of committee and then passes the Senate it will head to Gov. Brad Little’s desk.

The bill would require public schools, colleges and universities, or private ones that are affiliated with the Idaho High School Activities Association or with the college sports organizations the state’s public colleges and universities belong to, to designate teams as either male, female or coed, and says teams designated for females shall not be open to male students. In case of a dispute, sex would be established with a physician’s statement based on the student’s external and internal reproductive systems, the amount of testosterone the student naturally produces and a genetic analysis.

Similar bills have been introduced in several Republican states this year. The wording of the Idaho bill is largely identical to one that was introduced in Mississippi earlier this year, and the Arizona House passed a similar bill earlier this week. The bill’s supporters say it is a way to protect girls and women from unfair competition.

“This bill is about one thing,” Ehardt said. “It is about protecting opportunities and continued opportunities for girls and women in sports.”

“Letting XYers play in the XX world is not fair to either group, regardless of the hormones they prescribe,” said Brian Stutzman, of Idaho Falls.

The bill doesn’t say who can challenge a student’s gender, and many of its opponents focused on this and on the procedures in the bill to verify someone’s gender, saying it would lead to invasive examinations for women and girls.

“Performing these tests will inflict physical and emotional harm to the young girls and financial harm to the family,” said Tracy Olson, of Boise.

Paul Rolig, of Boise, who said he grew in a Republican household and still agrees with some conservative ideas, said the bill would lead to an expensive lawsuit. He said several major employers have come out against the bill, saying it makes it harder for them to recruit employees.

“This bill simply riles up emotions about a hot-button culture wars non-issue,” he said.

Miranda Marquit, a Democrat from Idaho Falls who is running against Ehardt, said the science on whether transgender women have an athletic advantage over other women is not established and is too nuanced to be sold legislatively.

“It is a bad policy solution to a problem that does not actually exist,” she said.

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.