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Idaho Exports Transgender Athlete Legislation To Montana

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An Idaho law banning transgender girls and women from competing in women’s sports is being duplicated in Montana.

The Montana House advanced the “Save Women’s Sports Act” out of committee 11-8 on a near party-line vote Jan. 21. Montana house bill 112 is nearly an exact copy of Idaho house bill 500, the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” passed into law last year but currently stalled on a temporary injunction issued in August ahead of a hearing in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The bills require transgender athletes to compete on teams which align with their sex at birth.

Montana’s bill has important omissions compared to Idaho’s, according to legislation sponsor, Montana Rep. John Fuller (R-Whitefish).

“House bill 112 does not include in it that aspect of the Idaho bill that the federal district court put an injunction on,” he said.

Fuller was referring to two sections in the Idaho law omitted from the proposed Montana legislation, one section specifying how the sex of athletes would need to be verified, and a section on protection from investigation for educational institutions.

Also not included in the Montana legislation: a two-year time limit on civil action and an informational portion stating that puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones do not diminish the benefit of natural male testosterone.

During testimony before Montana’s House Judiciary Committee on Jan. 18, many of the rationale used to justify the need for the legislation were questioned, and some in the room — including Idaho Rep. Barbara Ehardt (R-Idaho Falls) — used misgendered pronouns when offering examples of transgender athletes during testimony.

Even without the legally-challenged sections of Idaho’s bill, opponents of the Montana legislation questioned its constitutionality and potential fiscal consequences.

Ehardt, who sponsored last year’s bill in Idaho, testified Idaho had not suffered fiscal consequences due to the passage of the bill.

“Idaho right now is the number one state in the nation for growth,” she claimed, without citing evidence used to reach that conclusion. In August, USA Today ranked Idaho’s economy second-best among U.S. states, trailing Utah. Ehardt also pointed to Idaho’s large tax surplus as evidence that the law didn’t hurt the state.

But she glossed over that many organizations, including the NCAA, have only delayed reacting to the law while it is tied up in the courts. The NCAA said its Board of Governors would review Idaho’s appropriateness to host championship events if the act became law. That discussion has been tabled due to the legal challenge, but the governing body of major college athletics has been down this road and taken action before.

The NCAA pulled championship events from North Carolina in 2016 due to HB2, the so-called ‘bathroom bill,’ which required transgender people to use the bathroom aligned with their sex at birth. Professional sports, large businesses and many entertainers also protested HB2 by pulling or threatening to pull their business or events, and that bill was changed a year later. An Associated Press analysis at the time estimated the state would lose $3.76 billion over 12 years if the bill had remained law.

Neither Idaho nor Montana have the same number of collegiate championship events at risk when compared to North Carolina, but Boise State has hosted multiple NCAA men's basketball tournament first and second round games in recent years, as well as the NCAA indoor track & field national championships. Conference championship events held in Idaho for the Mountain West, Big Sky and Western Athletic conferences could also be in jeopardy.

Hours after being sworn in on Jan. 20, President Joe Biden issued an executive order strengthening workplace protections for LGBTQ+ people, an order directly covering federal employment which could be expanded in to include anti-discrimination protections for education and other venues. Those federal protections would likely run counter to the Idaho law and Montana's proposed bill.

While the bill is expected to reach the Montana House floor for debate this week, a fiscal note has also been ordered. The Governor’s Office of Budget and Policy Planning has 10 days to prepare a report detailing the legislation’s potential fiscal impact.

Rep. Fuller also introduced a bill in the Montana House Judiciary Committee banning gender reassignment surgery or prescriptions for minors, a duplicate of Idaho house bill 465 in 2020 which was tabled in committee. Montana house bill 113 was passed out of committee Jan. 22 on a 11-8 near party-line vote.

Follow Troy Oppie on Twitter @GoodBadOppie for more local news.

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