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Florida House panel backs measure to require ID cards to show sex assigned at birth

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TALLAHASSEE - A Florida House panel on Monday backed a measure that would require state-issued identification cards to reflect a person's sex assigned at birth and impose requirements for insurers who cover gender-affirming care.

The Republican-controlled House Select Committee on Health Innovation approved the bill (HB 1639) along party lines, despite opposition from transgender people and their allies.

Florida is among Republican-controlled states during the past few years that have taken a series of steps targeting transgender people and the broader LGBTQ community.

Under the bill approved Monday, insurance companies and health plans that cover such treatments as hormone-replacement therapy and surgeries for people diagnosed with gender dysphoria would additionally be required to cover the cost of "de-transitioning," It also would require insurers and medical plans that cover gender-affirming treatment to offer plans that do not include such coverage.

The legislation also would require insurers to cover so-called conversion therapy by forbidding insurers and health management organizations "from prohibiting coverage of mental health and therapeutic services to treat a person's perception that his or her sex is inconsistent with sex at birth by affirming the person's sex at birth."

Bill sponsor Doug Bankson, R-Apopka, described it as the "compassion and clarity" bill.

The measure seeks to "make sure we are not mandating a coverage but rather bringing a parity to the coverage that exists," Bankson said.

Bankson, who did not use the word "transgender" throughout nearly two hours of discussion on the bill, argued that there is "not a lot of history behind" gender transitioning, although such medical treatment has been available for decades.

"This is relatively new in our experience and the social challenges that we're facing so there is not a consistent track record" to base decisions on, Bankson said.

The bill also would require changes on driver's licenses. Currently, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles identifies a person's "gender" on licenses. The bill would require licenses to reflect a person's sex, based on "the person's sex chromosomes, naturally occurring sex hormones, and internal and external genitalia present at birth."

Bankson said the proposed changes are aimed at establishing a "medial line" for government documents.

"This is not to suppress people's right for personal expression. This is not to force one belief upon another," he said, adding that the licenses would be "tied to a scientific standard of birth sex."

But critics of the measure argued that it is part of the Republican-controlled Legislature's attempt to "erase" transgender people from society.

Justine Torres, a transgender woman from Tampa, called the proposed driver's license changes discrimination.

"I want to identify that this is discrimination on the basis of one's sex and it's purely out of animus for members of the transgender community. I want to note that eliminating people's ability to get identity documentation that reflects their affirmed sex exposes them to potential dangers. It's important to point out that retroactively eliminating these documents in essence invalidates them and could potentially also eliminate those people's ability to vote," she said.

With the 60-day legislative session entering its third week Monday, a Senate version of the bill had not been filed.

"Here we are yet again. I thought we had moved past this, in light of real issues that Floridians have, but yet here we are again, targeting 0.66 percent of human beings that live in the state of Florida," Rep. Michelle Rayner, D-St. Petersburg, said. "We can't keep picking and choosing who we are going to give freedoms for."

The proposal comes after lawmakers in the past approved measures banning treatments such as hormone therapy and puberty blockers for trans children and making it more difficult for trans adults to access care for gender dysphoria. A law passed last year also prohibits schoolchildren and teachers from using pronouns that do not align with their sex assigned at birth.

Lawmakers, at Gov. Ron DeSantis' behest, also approved a measure aimed at preventing children from attending drag shows. The state is defending the transgender-related measures in federal court.

Opponents of the efforts contend that the focus on trans restrictions is creating a hostile environment for LGBTQ people.

Kimberly Cox, a Pasco County woman whose child is trans, pleaded with the panel to vote against the measure under review Monday.

"Honestly, I'm scared, scared for my child, because this is likely to force them back into a lifestyle of depression and anxiety and self-harm. I'm scared for all the people in the LGBTQ community and I'm scared what's going to happen when you force them back into that closet. I'm scared of what will happen when you try to erase their identity," Cox, who is part of the Women's Voices for Southwest Florida group, said. "It's bad enough that they're bullied at school and that they're bullied in these public spaces. Now the biggest fear is the bullies that are creating these laws."

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