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By Clair McFarland, General Assignment Reporter
A bill that would have banned transgender-related treatments for minors died in the Wyoming House of Representatives Monday, amid outside speculation about whether the bill was still effective at all.
Wyoming Freedom Caucus members and all Democratic delegates to the House on Monday voted to end debate on new bills early, and Senate File 144, Chloe’s Law, was among nearly a dozen bills that died with this action.
The Freedom Caucus said their vote did not “kill” Chloe’s Law because the House Appropriations Committee’s recommended changes to it would have gutted the bill anyway. Other Republicans, however, say the bill still has one important enforcement mechanism and could have become a law to prevent gender-change surgeries on kids.
The bill did still contain one enforcement mechanism, though the committee’s version of it was vastly changed from the original.
Analysis: Here Are The Changes
If it had passed with the House Appropriations Committee’s suggested changes, Senate File 144, Chloe’s Law, would still have made doctors’ licenses revocable if they performed transgender surgeries on children or prescribed sterilizing medication.
At first glance, the amended version doesn’t look like it has any enforcement power against doctors, because the committee struck all language referencing license revocation. But for Wyoming’s doctors, any violation of state law is grounds for license revocation.
Wyoming statute 33-26-402 (a)(x) threatens doctors and surgeons with license loss or other discipline for “violating or attempting to violate or assist(ing) in the violation of… any other applicable provision of law.”
But the committee sought to delete many other provisions in the bill, which would have forbidden pharmacists, insurance companies, nurses and doctors alike from extending any and all gender-transition treatments to kids.
Wyoming children under the changed version of the law would have been able to take puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones if the drugs weren’t found permanently sterilizing. They also would have been able to seek transgender-affirming counseling. Both of these are policy changes from the original bill.
Freedom Caucus member Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette, told Cowboy State Daily in a Tuesday email that the Appropriations Committee’s changes would have warped the law.
Committee changes only can go into effect after a House majority approval, but Bear said he was certain the House would have voted for the amendment.
“In the entire session, the (Wyoming Freedom Caucus) has only stopped one bad standing committee amendment,” said Bear, adding that the caucus also tried and failed twice to reroute Chloe’s Law into what it deemed a more friendly panel, the House Health and Labor Committee.
Do Not Pass
Because the Appropriations Committee sent Chloe’s Law back onto the House Floor with a “Do Not Pass” recommendation, the House wasn’t allowed to hear it until it had heard all the other bills first.
Bear said that caucus members would have had to battle a slate of “more progressive bills” to get to Chloe’s Law.
“This tactic was executed to allow more progressive bills with features like gun control and fiscally irresponsible spending to be heard should anyone try to get to Chloe’s Law,” said Bear.
Two of those bills are Senate File 120, which proposes to restore nonviolent felons’ civil rights and gun rights five years after they complete their sentences and Senate File 35, which would have appropriated $10 million to improve school crosswalks.
Though it restores rights, SF 120 also adds a state law taking away non-violent felons’ gun rights. Only a federal law did so before. Caucus members opposed SF 120, which is scheduled for its final vote in the House on Wednesday.
Bear said his fellow Freedom Caucus member House Majority Floor Leader Rep. Chip Neiman, R-Hulett, allowed SF 120 onto the floor against Bear’s wishes.
Neiman said the “Do Not Pass” motion on Chloe’s Law sent a clear message to the House that its most experienced members, the Appropriations delegates, did not want the law at all.
“If they really wanted this legislation, why would (they) recommend a ‘Do Not Pass,’?” wrote Neiman in a text to Cowboy State Daily. “I wanted (the law) badly.”
Not all committee members voted in favor of the “Do Not Pass.” Reps. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, and Clark Stith, R-Rock Springs, voted against the motion and in favor of the bill.
Committee Chairman Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne, did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment on the motion.
Some Enforcement Needed
Larsen said he voted in favor of Chloe’s Law because he believes some enforcement is needed to protect children from permanent procedures.
Larsen also was the author of the many changes to Chloe’s Law that Bear bemoaned.
Larsen said the changes were necessary to clean up the bill and protect medical providers from overbroad legislation.
“We ended up with a bill that was legal, and really addressed what I felt my constituents there at home were saying: we don’t want these invasive surgeries to be performed on children,” said Larsen. “And I agree.”
Bear said the changes were “huge.”
The original bill forbade insurers from covering transgender treatments but the altered version did not address insurers, because the Appropriations Committee feared hamstringing insurance companies between a state law forbidding such coverage and a federal law that requires it.
Bear said the state shouldn’t shrink from federal lawsuits and has a duty to “fight against immoral federal laws.”
“Federal law should not dictate to us how we regulate the treatment of vulnerable children,” he said. “Federal law is NOT a reason to back down on this.”
Eagerness to litigate has been a key difference between Freedom Caucus members and other delegates this session.
House Speaker Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, characterized ongoing litigation and the bills that cause it, as a drain on Wyoming taxpayers’ resources, as have others outside the caucus.
Stith, however, brought a different concern to the insurance issue: he said forcing Wyoming insurers out of compliance with federal law could have scrubbed them from the federal insurance marketplace.
“That could have kicked 37,000 Wyomingites off the health care exchange,” Stith told Cowboy State Daily.
Larsen said he removed portions of Chloe’s Law that would have revoked counselors’ licenses for providing transgender-related counseling because he felt children should still have access to such counseling.
Bear said this perverted the intent of the bill.
“This is HUGE,” wrote Bear in his email. “It leaves out the mental health professionals who might groom these kids.”
Wyoming mental health lobbyists resoundingly opposed Chloe’s Law and have spoken in favor of “gender-affirming care” this session.
Drugs And Doctors
With the narrower ban on surgeries and sterilizing drugs for kids, the amendment removed a list of forbidden drugs. It also removed what Bear said was a “catch-all” prohibition on removing healthy body parts from kids.
But the new version of the law still lists transgender surgeries as forbidden.
Bear said medical providers would have needed the list of forbidden drugs to know exactly how to operate under the new law.
“The deleted list of prohibited drugs is absolutely necessary to the bill,” he said. “Otherwise it is left providing zero guidance to providers.”
Larsen countered, saying state laws should not become so heavy-handed with doctors that they feel they can’t do their jobs.
“All medications (can be) dangerous,” said Larsen. “Which is why we have doctors prescribing them… I have faith in the doctors treating these kids who are going through this.”
Larsen said doctors are the ones who can closely observe what impacts treatments, or lack thereof, will have on kids. He also said the committee found it incongruous that young girls struggling with other medical issues could receive puberty blockers, but girls using the blockers to address gender nonconformity could not.
Bear and Larsen exchanged barbs in their separate interviews and statements, each accusing the other of killing Chloe’s Law.
“Although many of my Republican colleagues have been quoted as saying that they would have liked to see the bill come out for a debate, their actions betray their words,” said Bear.
He wrote in an earlier letter to Cowboy State Daily that some House members now “seek an ‘attaboy’ for supporting a bill that does nothing to protect our children.”
Larsen said Chloe’s Law died because Freedom Caucus members voted to end debate on new bills early.
“Rather than taking the time and working with colleagues in the Legislature,” said Larsen, “they miss a really important opportunity to bring others to the table and get the validation that a bill warrants.”