The state House on Monday voted not to concur with amendments from the Senate to legislation restricting the ability of transgender students to participate in school sports that would have protected Montana’s federal education funding if the bill became law.
The Senate amendment to House Bill 112 would void the act in its entirety if the federal Department of Education’s civil rights office issued a letter of impending enforcement as a result of the bill. In one of his first days in office, U.S. President Joe Biden issued an executive order instructing federal agencies to interpret and enforce a U.S. Supreme Court ruling from last year expanding the definition of sex discrimination to apply to Title IX, effectively extending the ruling to possibly include legislation proposed in numerous states affecting the participation of transgender athletes in school sports.
The amendment was intended to shield the state’s Title IX funds if the department cracked down on the law, proposed by Rep. John Fuller, R-Whitefish, which would mandate that transgender women participate in men’s school sports and vice versa. Fuller, a former educator, said Monday that he agreed with the intent of the Senate amendment but that he wanted the language to be refined.
There’s an existing process for appealing Title IX funding decisions, he said, a process that he’d like to see comprehensively contained within the bill. The House’s vote against the Senate amendment means that the bill will go to a conference committee where Fuller may introduce the suggested language.
The vote was nearly unanimous, with all Democrats and all Republicans but one lining behind Fuller. Democrats and even some members of the GOP have been staunchly opposed to HB112 and a companion bill also from Fuller, HB427, which would restrict gender-affirming surgery among minors. The latter bill is still moving through the Senate.
Removing the Senate amendments to HB112 may appeal to Democrats as it makes a lawsuit against the bill easier to justify. Opponents of both bills have warned of seemingly inevitable legal action.
There’s also implications for the state’s economy, with hundreds of companies warning of the impact of the bills in a letter sent to lawmakers in March. The National Collegiate Athletics Association said Monday that it was monitoring the slate of similar bills in states nationwide, affirming in a statement its support for the “opportunity for transgender student-athletes to compete in college sports.”
“When determining where championships are held, NCAA policy directs that only locations where hosts can commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination should be selected,” the statement says. “We will continue to closely monitor these situations to determine whether NCAA championships can be conducted in ways that are welcoming and respectful of all participants.”
The organization says it has its own approach to participation of transgender student athletes that requires testosterone suppression treatment for transgender women. This policy “embraces the evolving science on this issue and is anchored in participation policies of both the International Olympic Committee and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee,” the NCAA statement says.