How Republicans scrambled and maneuvered to quash bipartisan Senate changes to bill banning gender-affirming care for youth

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

A revised bill with language to ban gender-affirming care for Kentucky’s transgender youth moved quickly through both houses of the General Assembly Thursday and is on Gov. Andy Beshear’s desk.

Even if the Democratic governor vetoes the bill, as is expected, the supermajority of Republicans in the legislature can override the veto when they return on March 28 and 29. 

Changes made to Senate Bill 150, sponsored by Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, were approved in a hastily called meeting of the House Education Committee, which approved it 16-5 with Republican Rep. Killian Timoney of Nicholasville voting “no” with the four Democrats on the committee.

Soon after, the amended bill passed the House 75-22, despite more than two hours of Democrats speaking against it.

SB 150 moved quickly to the Senate for concurrence with the House changes. It passed 30-7 to shouts and obscenities yelled from the gallery at legislators. Sen. Danny Carroll of Benton was the only Republican to vote against the bill and Sen. Robin Webb of Grayson, was the only Democrat for it.

The night before, Carroll had narrowly succeeded in watering down a House bill that would limit gender-affirming care, but after his floor amendment passed 19-17 the Senate laid HB 470 on the clerk’s desk and Wise worked with the House to put most of the original bill into SB 150.

The amended version of SB 150 prohibits gender-affirming medical care for trans youth, including gender-affirming surgery or puberty-blocking hormones. It allows health-care providers to de-transition youth who are already taking such hormones, which would require them to taper them off of the drugs. It also provides exemptions for youth who have a diagnosed sexual-development disorder. 

Providers who violate the law would have their licenses revoked, and youth who claim injury as a result of gender-affirming care could fule suit to recover damages until they turn 30 years old or within three years from the time they discovery the injury. The normal deadline for a lawsuit is one year.

SB 150 also includes its original provisions to prohibit schools from requiring teachers to use a trans student’s preferred pronouns and requires schools to notify parents about any content related to sexuality. It also added content from HB 177, which does not allow any sex education to children in grades five and below and bans all students from receiving instruction that explores “gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation.”

Carroll speaks on SB 150. (Legislative Research Comm. photo) 

Carroll’s revised bill likewise prohibited surgical medical treatments for trans youth, but unlike allowed some nonsurgical medical-treatment options. His change was supported by all seven Democratic senators and 12 of the 31 Republicans. Seven of them voted the other way when Wise’s bill came back from the House. It passed 30-7.

Carroll, explaining his no vote, said, “We know that most kids that are struggling with gender dysphoria decide to stay the gender that they are. It’s a phase that they go through, [and for] some it’s not. What would it hurt to allow doctors to have access to these puberty blockers to give these kids time to work through the issues that they face? Why can’t we trust our doctors, as we do for every other issue, to guide us through these things?”

Sen. Karen Berg, D-Louisville, whose trans son Henry died by suicide in December, said of SB 150, “This is absolutely willful hate for a small group of people that are the weakest and most vulnerable among us.”

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Fruit Hill (Christian County), said his yes vote was “reluctant.” He said SB 150 was better than HB 470 largely because it allows doctors to talk freely with their patients about their medical concerns without fear of liability.  

During the House floor debate, Rep. Chad Aull, D-Lexington, reminded the lawmakers that nearly half of LGBTQ individuals have seriously considered suicide and that percentage is much higher with transgender children. “If this legislation causes one child in Kentucky to consider or to take their own live, this is a wrong piece of legislation,” he said.

Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, issued a statement calling the speedy passage of SB 150 “parliamentary shenanigans” and that the genesis of the measure “springs from a national agenda of fearmongering.”   

“Passage of SB 150, even with the amendment, means that kids lose access to much needed health and mental health supports. It means that families lose vital rights. And it means that Frankfort Republicans – save the courageous Representatives Banta, Dietz, Moser, and Timoney and Senator Carroll, who refused to vote in support of the measure – lose their long-held core governing identity. That is a lose-lose-lose trifecta for us all,” he said. Senate Majority Floor Leader Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, who voted for the bill, said SB 150’s anti-trans provisions were modeled after a law in South Dakota. 

Rep. Kim Moser, R-Taylor Mill, while explaining her “pass” vote said, “I’m concerned that it doesn’t comment enough on the mental-health treatment. . . . I really would like to see that we are allowing for mental-health treatment, watchful waiting and making sure that we’re supporting the families who are going through this issue. I’m passing today because we want to protect children on all sides of this issue.” Moser is chair of the House Health Services Committee.

Rep. Keturah Herron, D-Louisville, (left) confers with Senate Minority Floor Leader Gerald A. Neal, D-Louisville, during the floor debate on Senate Bill 150, an act relating to children. (LRC PIO)

Tamarra Wieder, state director for Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates, voiced her disappointment: “SB 150 is deliberately designed to create a culture war across this commonwealth. It has nothing to do with parental rights. It has nothing to do with caring for kids. What it does is go against the guidance of every major medical association in this state. It replaces our physicians with politicians and places our trans kids’ lives on the line.” 

Top Photo: Senate President Pro Tem David P. Givens, R-Greensburg (left) confers with Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, during the floor debate on Senate Bill 150, an act related to children. (LRC PIO)

Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.