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Idaho governor beats deadline and signs 2 anti-transgender bills into law

Boise, Idaho — Idaho Governor Brad Little on Monday signed into law two anti-transgender bills, making Idaho the first among states that introduced some 40 such bills this year to enact them. The Republican governor approved legislation that prohibits transgender people from changing the sex listed on their birth certificates, and another that bans transgender girls and women from competing in women's sports.

He faced a Tuesday deadline to veto the measures. That coincides with International Transgender Day of Visibility.
 
"This legislation discriminates against transgender individuals and presents a dangerous potential for the invasion of privacy of all Idaho students," the ACLU of Idaho said in a statement. "It distracts from the urgent need for the State of Idaho to focus its attention on the global pandemic, COVID-19."

The birth certificate measure ignores a 2018 federal court ruling that a past law barring transgender people from making the birth certificate changes violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The judge scrapped the ban and warned against new rules. The Idaho attorney general's office, which didn't appeal the ruling, said it could cost $1 million if the state had to defend the ban again and lost.

"There's an injunction that already absolutely forbids this policy, and the government can't enforce this law without violating a court order," said Peter Renn of Lambda Legal, the law firm that represented two transgender women whose lawsuit led to the court ruling. "The ramifications of contempt (of court) are quite furious."

Legislative Preview
Idaho Governor Brad Little talks to reporters at the State Capitol building in Boise on Jan. 3, 2020. Otto Kitsinger / AP

He said the court could impose fines and hold top officials at the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare responsible should the court order be violated.

Backers of the legislation said the federal court was wrong, and the law is needed so Idaho has accurate birth records. It takes effect July 1.

The sports ban applies to all sports teams sponsored by public schools, colleges and universities. A girls' or women's team will not be open to transgender students who identify as female.

Backers said the law was needed because transgender female athletes have physical advantages.

Opponents said it discriminated against transgender girls and women, and would subject athletes to invasive tests to prove their gender, likely causing some potential athletes to avoid sports.

In a statement provided to CBS News on Monday, the ACLU of Idaho said it would file a legal challenge if the measure was signed.

"If House Bill 500 [on school sports] does become law our organization is prepared to sue," said Kathy Griesmyer, the organization's policy director. "We've been advising lawmakers all session about the legal concerns that are entangled in the bill. We stand by that commitment to take the state to court if House Bill 500 becomes law."    

Republican Rep. Barbara Ehardt, who sponsored the sports ban, has consistently argued that allowing the practice would negate Title IX, the 1972 law barring sex discrimination in education and is credited with opening up athletic competition for girls and women.

She didn't return a call from The Associated Press on Monday.

Both the anti-transgender bills had overwhelming support among Republicans in the House and Senate in numbers great enough to override a veto. Rather than wait out a potential veto, though, both chambers adjourned earlier this month because of coronavirus concerns and would have been powerless to override vetoes.

"We condemn Governor Little's actions and the actions of dozens of Idaho legislators who are so focused on pleasing their bigoted base instead of doing what is right," said Mistie Tolman, Idaho director for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, adding the laws make Idaho one of the "cruelest states in the country."

Across the U.S., more than 40 bills were introduced this year targeting transgender youth. About half, like one of the Idaho bills, sought to ban transgender girls from competing at various levels of girls' sports. Another large batch of bills sought to ban certain types of gender-transition medical treatment for minors.

None of these bills have been enacted, and most have died. In some other states — including Ohio, Alabama, Tennessee, Kansas, Louisiana, South Carolina, Missouri and Arizona — bills of one or both categories remain technically alive, but most are considered unlikely to win final passage. In some cases, the legislatures are in recess and future scheduling is in limbo because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Meanwhile, the families of three female high school runners have filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to block transgender athletes in Connecticut from participating in girls' sports.

On March 24, the U.S. Justice Department came out in support of the lawsuit, arguing that the state's inclusive policy violates the federal Title IX law allowing girls equal educational and athletic opportunities.

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