HELENA — As part of a series of early morning votes Thursday, a Republican-controlled committee at the Montana Legislature advanced a bill that would restrict transgender athletes in the state.
House Bill 112, which essentially bans transgender athletes from participating on a sports team at a Montana school or college that does not align with their sex at birth, passed 11-8 votes by the House Judiciary Committee.
The bill now heads to the Montana House floor.
The early morning votes occurred after most Republican committee members met in a closed meeting, shortly after the committee had convened the meeting at 7 a.m.
Rep. Barry Usher, R-Billings, said the closure was legal because it didn’t constitute a quorum of the committee, since all Republican members didn’t attend. Montana law says any meeting of a public body must be open to the public, if a quorum is present.
Democrats on the panel argued in vain against the bill and four abortion bills that were also passed on Thursday, sometimes saying they ran afoul of federal law and the state and federal constitutions.
Rep. Rob Farris-Olsen, D-Helena, said it’s illegal to discriminate based on someone’s gender identity, and that if lawmakers pass HB112, they’re violating the constitution and risking Montana losing all federal education funding.
But Rep. Derek Skees, R-Kalispell, said claims of a bill being unconstitutional are mere opinions, and that the only real test is how a court decides the issue.
HB112 could have wide-ranging effects on college athletics in Montana. Both the NCAA and NAIA have recommended policies and guidelines in place to allow transgender athletes to compete.