BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Amid mounting pressure from Republicans, a bill banning gender-affirming medical care for transgender youths in Louisiana that was narrowly killed by a legislative committee last week has been resurrected.
In a rare occurrence, the Senate voted to recommit the controversial bill to a different committee, giving it a second chance at life. The measure, which was rejected by the Senate Health & Welfare Committee last week, received statewide and national attention after a Republican cast the tie-breaking vote to kill the bill.
Sen. Fred Mills, the Republican chairman of the Health & Welfare Committee who cast last week’s decisive vote, told his colleagues on the chamber floor Thursday that he opposed reviving the bill, adding that if lawmakers respect the vote of the majority of the committee, they will uphold the decision. But the Senate voted 26-11 — along party lines, with the exception of Mills – to recommit the bill to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is scheduled to meet Friday afternoon.
The bill has already passed in the House. If the Senate Judiciary Committee advances the bill, it will then move to the full Senate for debate. Upon final passage, the measure would be sent to the desk of Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat who opposes the bill. Edwards has not said whether he would veto it.
“Do what you need to do,” Mills told lawmakers Thursday. “We can talk about the merits of the bill for a long period of time, and I know people are saying that they want (the bill) to be heard on the floor. I do understand that. But I will tell you that this committee did a heck of a job.”
Tensions over the legislation reached a boiling point last week after Attorney General Jeff Landry, who is a GOP gubernatorial candidate this year, and the Republican Party of Louisiana pressured lawmakers to resurrect the proposed gender-affirming care ban and pass it.
Additionally, anti-transgender activists took to social media, including conservative political commentator Matt Walsh, who tweeted to his nearly 2 million followers that Mills would regret his decision and that it is “the biggest mistake of his political career.”
Mills, who sided with Democrats on the committee vote, has repeatedly said he stands by his decision.
“As I have always done in my 16 years as a legislator, I relied on science and data and not political or societal pressures,” Mills, a pharmacist in rural Louisiana, said last week. “I prioritized the value of the physician-patient relationship, I put my trust that the physicians in Louisiana know better that I do regarding how to treat these children, and I decided that this is such a small unique subset of medical needs of the entire population that I should not take away approved and appropriate medicinal options.”
Opponents of Louisiana’s bill argue that gender-affirming care, which is supported by every major medical organization, can be lifesaving for someone with gender dysphoria — distress over gender identity that doesn’t match a person’s assigned sex. Research suggests transgender children and adults are prone to stress, depression and suicidal thoughts. Advocates for the LGBTQ+ community fear that without the care, transgender children could face especially heightened risks.
According to a report by the Louisiana Department of Health, just a few dozen minors received gender-affirming care, including hormone therapy and puberty blockers, between 2017 and 2021. This data only factored Medicaid-enrolled youths. Additionally, the report found that there have been no gender-affirming surgeries performed on Medicaid-enrolled minors during that timeframe.
Currently, children in Louisiana need parental permission to receive any gender-affirming health care before they turn 18.
Proponents of the legislation argue that the proposed bans would protect children from life-altering medical procedures until they are mature enough to make such serious decisions.
So far, at least 18 states have enacted laws restricting or prohibiting gender-affirming care for minors, and all three of Louisiana’s bordering states have enacted bans or are poised to do so.
The ban in Arkansas, the first state to prohibit such care, has been temporarily blocked by a federal judge. Mississippi’s governor signed a ban into law in February. Texas’ governor has said he will sign a ban that lawmakers have sent him.