HELENA – The Montana Senate advanced Tuesday a bill that would ban transgender athletes from participating in school and college sports according to the gender with which they identify, but amended it to be voided if the federal government withholds federal funding from the state because of the measure.
Supporters of the measure say male-born athletes are naturally stronger, faster and larger than those born female, and the bill would prevent an uneven playing field for female-born athletes, despite a lack of evidence to back the claim.
“No one is going to be denied the opportunity to participate in sports because of this bill — there are men’s teams and there’s girls’ teams,” said Sen. Keith Regier, a Republican who carried the measure on the Senate floor.
Opponents — including business owners, students and athletes — say the bill would hurt transgender athletes’ physical and emotional wellbeing and would harm the state’s economy.
The bill “is worse than a solution looking for a problem — it will become the problem,” Democratic Sen. Pat Flowers said.
The bill advanced in a 29-21 vote in the GOP-controlled Senate. The Senate is expected to vote on the measure for a third time before sending it back to the House for final approval. Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte has not commented on whether he would sign the bill into law.
Before voting in favor of the measure, the Senate amended the bill to be voided if the U.S. Department of Education withholds federal education funding from the state, a concern stemming from an executive order prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity signed by President Joe Biden his first day in office. That amendment passed in a 27-23 vote.
Amendment sponsor Sen. Daniel Salomon, a Republican, said university sports championship events could also be disallowed in Montana if the bill were signed into law, costing the state revenue and harming athletic opportunities in the state. Salomon said he doesn’t want the state’s public education system — or sporting events — to suffer as a result of the bill.
“If you don’t ever want to watch a home football playoff in Montana again — your choice,” Salomon said.
But Regier said the state could appeal any decision by the U.S. Department of Education — a process that can take over two years — and that Montana would be bolstered by other states that have passed similar measures.
Similar bans have been introduced in more than 20 states this year. Republican governors in Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi signed them into law this month. A federal court blocked a similar law in Idaho last year.
In South Dakota, Republican Gov. Kristi Noem on Monday killed a similar bill after facing pressure from business groups. But she ordered that all girls who want to play in girls’ sports leagues in public schools have to present a birth certificate or affidavit showing they were born female.
The Montana Senate is also considering a measure that would ban gender-affirming surgeries for transgender minors. That bill, already passed by the House, has not yet been scheduled for a vote on the Senate floor. Similar measures have been introduced in more than a dozen states. None have been signed into law.
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