SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah State Legislature has voted to override the governor's veto of the bill banning transgender children from participating in school sports.
The House voted 56-18, while the Senate voted 21-8 for House Bill 11 on Friday, overturning the governor's veto of the bill. It came after some passionate debate in both chambers. Outside the Utah State Capitol, people for and against the bill demonstrated at times shouting over each other "trans rights" and "girls rights."
"It preserves the integrity of women’s sports," said Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, who sponsored HB11.
The bill, which was amended in the final hours of the legislative session, now bans transgender children from middle and high school sports. In the event of a lawsuit, however, the bill defaults to a special commission that would evaluate transgender children's eligibility to play a sport that matches their gender identity.
The commission idea was backed by Governor Spencer Cox, though neither social conservatives or LGBTQ rights groups were thrilled with it. Groups including the Utah Eagle Forum successfully lobbied for a last-minute floor amendment instituting a ban on the final night of the 2022 legislative session.
Gov. Cox vetoed HB11 with the ban, concerned about the welfare of already vulnerable transgender children, as well as legal indemnification for school districts. FOX 13 News first reported earlier this week on the legislature's plans for a veto override.
"I think this bill is a hybrid of two approaches," said Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Herriman, who supported it. "Having compassion not only for our trans youth who we love, but also for our young women."
But some lawmakers accused their colleagues of playing politics.
"This is political theatre and it makes me sad to think this is why we’re here," said Sen. Kathleen Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights, pointing out that many of her Republican colleagues were facing tough re-election challenges.
Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, said he would still oppose the override, even if it cost him his political career.
"I considered briefly changing my vote so I could do better at convention, so I could win with the delegates so I could show I'm conservative. Well in my world that does not mean turning my back on my principles," he said, voting against the override.
After overriding the governor, the legislature met in a special session to approve House Bill 3001, which offers legal protections for school districts in the event of a lawsuit. The change won over some support in both the House and Senate.
"I don’t think it’s fair to the taxpayer because they are still on the hook," said Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy.
In a statement on the override, Gov. Cox said he was glad the legislature made some concessions.
"I am grateful the Legislature recognized that there were serious flaws with HB11 and for the heightened debate and input that legislators were able to receive over the past few weeks. I called a special session today to fix at least one flaw in the bill, and we’re heartened that the legislature agreed to indemnify school districts and the Utah High School Activities Association from the enormous financial burden that inevitable litigation will have on them," he said. "I remain hopeful that we will continue to work toward a more inclusive, fair and compassionate policy during the interim."
Senate President J. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, told FOX 13 News on Thursday he believes the state will be sued over HB11 and likely lose. The bill would then default to the commission. The mayors of Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County have warned of economic losses as a result of the transgender sports bill — including lost sports games, conventions and other events. Visit Salt Lake estimated it could cost as much as $50 million in lost economic opportunity.
Asked about the prospect of losing next year's NBA All-Star Game over it, House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said he welcomed a meeting with NBA officials.
"Our intent here is to protect women’s sports and keep women’s sports safe and competitive," he said.
After the override vote, the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah told FOX 13 News a lawsuit will be filed against the state.
"We’re anticipating that," Sen. Adams said in response.
Rep. Birkeland insisted that her bill is not picking on transgender children.
"As a state, I feel like we’ve done a really good job of trying to help and support these kids," she told reporters. "However, somebody identifying as a girl I don’t believe, based on that alone, should give them the opportunity to deny the rights and opportunity for another girl."