Idaho bill banning public funds for gender-affirming care goes to Senate

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House Bill 668 would prohibit the use of public funds for gender-affirming care for transgender and nonbinary Idahoans. (Getty Images)

In a 4-3 vote Thursday morning, Idaho lawmakers on the Senate State Affairs Committee voted to move a bill forward that would prohibit transgender and nonbinary Idahoans enrolled in Medicaid, or state employees enrolled in the state’s insurance plan, from obtaining gender-affirming care. 

According to House Bill 668, public funds “shall not be used … to pay for any surgical operation or medical intervention … for purposes of altering the appearance of an individual in order to affirm the individual’s perception of the individual’s sex in a way that is inconsistent with the individual’s biological sex.” 

Bill sponsors Reps. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot, and Bruce Skaug, R-Nampa, said the bill is aimed to protect taxpayer dollars, and it is a redrafted version of previous legislation presented earlier this session.

Idaho Rep. Julianne Young (R, Blackfoot)
Idaho Rep. Julianne Young (R, Blackfoot)

Idaho Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot, listens to proceedings on the House floor at the State Capitol building on Jan. 9, 2023. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

The committee heard from 12 people, including transgender Idahoans, state employees, and a doctor, who all testified against the bill. 

Nikson Mathews, a transgender Boise man, was the first person to testify. He said that while he spent hours preparing for his two-minute testimony, he wanted to emphasize the human cost behind the bill. 

“Bills like this impact real people,” Mathews said. “I’m here actually asking you to see me and to see us. We are human beings. We are your neighbors. We are your constituents. We are valuable members of this community. We are taxpayers. And we deserve access to medically necessary access to benefits as any other Idahoan would.”

Sen. Treg Bernt, R-Meridian, thanked Mathews for his testimony. 

“I appreciate you, I appreciate your strength, and I appreciate your courage to stand up and testify,” he said. 

Bernt, alongside Sens. Ben Toews, R-Coeur d’Alene; Chuck Winder, R-Boise; Kelly Anthon, R-Burley, voted in favor to advance the bill.

The committee’s decision brings House Bill 668 one step closer to becoming law. The bill already passed in the Idaho House of Representatives in a 58-11 vote, and an affirmative vote on the Senate floor would secure a spot for it on Idaho Gov. Brad Little’s desk where he can choose to sign it into law, let it become law without his signature or veto the legislation.

Opponents say bill is discriminatory, could lead to more lawsuits

Early on during the hearing, Senators Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise and James Ruchti, D-Pocatello, questioned bill sponsors about whether they had considered the constitutionality and the costs of defending the policy in a lawsuit. Both Democrats opposed moving the bill forward. 

Howard Belodoff, a Boise attorney who testified in opposition to the bill, said he believes House Bill 668 violates the Constitution’s 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection because it targets transgender and nonbinary Idahoans. 

Belodoff represents plaintiffs in M.H. v. Jeppesen, an ongoing lawsuit against the state of Idaho arguing against the constitutionality of withholding gender-affirming care from Medicaid patients. 

House Bill 668, Belodoff said, puts Idaho at risk of facing another lawsuit that could cost the state “millions of dollars.” 

“I’m not speculating,” Belodoff said. “I’m just telling you based on my knowledge and experience.”

Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon, was the only Republican to vote against advancing the bill. 

“This is one of those times where I’ve actually been convinced by the testimony, and I’m going to vote against the bill,” Guthrie said. “I do worry about the legal cases and the discrimination piece. And I worry about compromising some health care for our state employees.” 

‘I just love this state’: Caldwell woman says gender-affirming care saved her life

Trigger warning: This part of the story touches on subjects related to mental health and suicide. 

Saga Christian, a Caldwell resident and supervisor of Head Start, testified that she relies on gender-affirming care through a separate insurance that is not tied to her employer. 

“I have gotten to a point in my life financially and I’m doing really well, and I’m thinking about applying for some state jobs. Mainly what drew me to those was because I am thinking about retirement, but also I am on gender-affirming medication.”

But her insurance will expire soon, so she will be relying either on Medicaid or another employer. If she does not have those options, she said she is thinking of moving out of state, despite her dreams of buying a house in Idaho.

“I had a meeting with the bank last week, and I just love this state,” Christian said. “I love my job, and I love helping the kids here. Seven years ago, you might’ve just found me as a suicide statistic. I was homeless, jobless, and this care has saved my life and I wake up every morning just incredibly happy.”

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