TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — In an 11th-hour maneuver, Republicans on Wednesday night revived and approved a bill to ban transgender females from competing in girl’s and women’s sports, sending it to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk as the legislative session hurtles toward a scheduled end Friday.
A standalone Senate bill, SB 2012, appeared to have died earlier in the session when the Senate failed to pass it out of its final committee hearing, preventing it from getting to the floor in that chamber.
But Rep. Kaylee Tuck, R-Lake Placid, sponsor of the original House bill, amended it onto SB 1028, which has become a standoff between the House and Senate in the session’s final days. The Senate earlier on Wednesday stripped out a provision added by the House to impose term limits on school board members.
The bill passed the House by a 79-37 vote, mostly along party lines. After a nearly two-hour, emotional debate, the Senate approved the measure by a 23-16 vote shortly before 9 p.m.
“If they want to play, let them play, there’s nothing to stop them,” said Sen. Victor Torres, D-Kissimmee, who has a transgender granddaughter. “We thought it was dead, but obviously some don’t care.”
Tuck and supporters of the bill have argued it is needed because transgender women have an unfair competitive advantage in athletic competitions.
She fended off criticisms from Democrats that high school and college sports in Florida haven’t had an issue with transgender women in sports, and some transgender girls already playing sports would be kicked off their teams.
“We don’t need to wait until there’s a problem in Florida for us to act,” Tuck said.
Democrats and LGBTQ activists pilloried the move, which came late in the afternoon and dragged the House floor session into the evening.
“Despite hearing the voices of trans kids and their families time and time again, extremists in the Legislature have made it their mission to make trans children pawns in their culture war,” Gina Duncan, director of transgender equality of Equality Florida, an LGBTQ rights advocacy group, said in a statement.
Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, was angered that Tuck presented her amendment as a compromise because it addressed some of the concerns raised by Democrats to the original bill.
The original measure had a dispute resolution clause that allowed schools to conduct medical inspections of a student athlete’s genitals suspected of being a biological male, but the amendment would instead rely on an original birth certificate to verify the gender of an athlete.
“We are told it’s a compromise because we’re no longer inspecting the genitals of children in schools,” Smith said. “Members, not inspecting children’s genitals is not a compromise. The fact that we were doing it in the first place is absolutely insane.”
Several Democrats blasted the bill, saying it would hurt transgender students in schools, as well as the maneuver to put it on another bill, eating up time in the last three days of the session as the state continues to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve spent more time on this amendment than we have on unemployment in the Senate,” said Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-North Miami Beach. “How many tens of thousands of our constituents have died in the last year? … This is so completely unnecessary to the good hard work our constituents want us to do.”
Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, defended the measure as protecting female athletes from unfair competition from transgender women.
“I thought it was common knowledge that men are stronger than women,” Stargel said. “We’re just trying to protect them.”
A similar bill in Idaho was struck down by a federal judge last year. Idaho’s law is now on hold during appeals, but similar bills have been passed in several other states, and they have been introduced in more than 25.
The NCAA said recently it would only look to hold its championships in states that are “free of discrimination” and said its policy is based on “inclusion and fairness,” an implied threat to states that approve the bills.
The NCAA has several championship events scheduled in Florida in the coming year, including tennis in Altamonte Springs, golf in Howey-in-the-Hills and Orlando, volleyball in Tampa, rowing in Sarasota, and cross country in Tallahassee.
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