(The Center Square) — Legislation to require transgender student athletes to compete on teams that correspond to their biological gender gained approval by the Senate with little opposition.
The Senate voted 29-6 to approve Senate Bill 44, sponsored by Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, to restrict K-12 and college sports to teams designated by biological gender, an effort Mizell describes as “fairness in women’s sports.”
The bill was unanimously approved by the Senate Education Committee earlier this month despite Gov. John Bel Edwards’ veto of virtually identical legislation last year.
Mizell stressed developments in the realm of transgender athletes over the last year both in committee and on the Senate floor Tuesday.
“Biological females placed second and third in tournaments that had been always a woman’s sport. We learned that the winning teams of Olympic women’s finalists could not even meet qualifying times for high school boys’ sports,” she said.
“We also learned that the NCAA has hosted events in 10 of the states that have passed bills almost identical to this, disproving the whole concern that we would not have NCAA events in Louisiana” if the bill becomes law, Mizell said, adding that a statewide poll shows over 80% support the measure.
Edwards cited in his veto last year the potential economic ramifications of the NCAA’s threats to pull events from states that adopt bans on transgender athletes competing on teams that do not correspond to their biological gender.
He also claimed in his veto message that the so-called Fairness in Women’s Sports Act “unfairly targets children who are going through unique challenges and offers solutions to an issue that does not exist in Louisiana.”
The bill gained the two-thirds majority to override Edwards’ veto in the Senate, but fell short in the House.
The Louisiana Family Forum, former female college athletes, longtime Ponchatoula High School girls basketball coach Patricia Landaiche, and other supported SB 44 in committee, while LGBTQ rights activists with the Forum for Equality opposed.
Opponents argued that Mizell had not contacted the transgender community about the legislation, and pointed to policy from the Louisiana High School Athletic Association (LHSAA) that already restricts student athletes to competing on teams that correspond to their biological gender.
Sen. Jay Luneau, D-Alexandria, spoke in opposition to SB 44 on the Senate floor on Tuesday, though he said he’s “opposed to biological males playing sports with biological females.”
“The reason I oppose this bill is because I believe this is the mechanism that will allow someone to come in and file a lawsuit in the state of Louisiana and allow that to happen,” he said.
“We don’t have any of this going on now and the reason is because of the processes set up through the LHSAA,” Luneau said. “That’s what keeps us from having this issue in the state of Louisiana.
“If we pass this legislation, it is my belief that someone will file a suit and that they very likely will win that suit and we will have that issue in the state of Louisiana. It’s happened in other states.”
Edwards has not revealed whether he would veto the measure the second time around, but did address the issue after lawmakers voted to override his veto of new congressional districts last month.
“I would hope it doesn’t reach my desk,” he said. “It’s pretty sad because it’s theoretically a bill about unfairness, but … that unfairness, it isn’t happening in Louisiana. But what is happening is we have some young people who have pretty severe mental illness in some cases, or I should say emotional issues and it just seems this is piling on, to me.”
SB 44 now moves to the House for consideration.