Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, speaks in favor of an amendment to a bill restricting transgender students from participating in school sports during a floor debate Saturday at the Alaska State Capitol. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, speaks in favor of an amendment to a bill restricting transgender students from participating in school sports during a floor debate Saturday at the Alaska State Capitol. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

As House plays the filibuster game on transgender sports bill Saturday, students’ focus is on the fields

Legislators spend more than 12 hours in heated debate on amendments; vote on bill scheduled Sunday

While state House lawmakers spent more than 12 hours Saturday filibustering a transgender sports ban bill, hundreds of students from Southeast Alaska high schools were competing in sports events a few miles away with no apparent concern if there were transgender participants among them.

As legislators took action on 88 amendments such as allowing transgender girls to participate in girls’ chess teams and appointing an official state gender inspector to resolve complaints, the kickoff at a local girls’ soccer game was by a senior with a broken arm who kicked it to a senior teammate with a torn anterior cruciate ligament before they both came off the field to applause during the first stoppage in play of their final home game.

While many House members lamented spending so many hours on the bill when numerous critical pieces of legislation remain unresolved with five days left in the legislative session, an athlete at a regional track meet celebrated his last-place finish in the 1,600 meters because it was a personal record despite having to drop out of events the day before due to shin splints.

And while the student athletes are done for the weekend, the House will resume floor debate on the transgender bill Sunday — a day which ironically is also scheduled for the annual Legislative softball game (with the forecast calling for rain and wind, in contrast to Saturday’s idyllic sunny and mild weather).

The bill at issue — House Bill 183, sponsored by Rep. Jamie Allard, an Eagle River Republican — restricts Alaska students’ sports participation to teams that match their sex at birth. Such a ban at the high school level was implemented last year by the state Board of Education and Early Development, but the bill expands it to all education levels from elementary school through college.

While House members on both sides of the issue emphasized Saturday the issue is extremely serious in terms of the physical and emotional well-being of students — although from vastly different perspectives — the bill itself is political theater since it has no realistic chance of passage in the Senate due to political leanings and time constraints. The statutory deadline for this year’s session is May 15, although lawmakers can extend it by 10 days with a two-thirds vote in each chamber.

The Legislature’s Division of Legal and Research Services has also raised concerns the bill may violate privacy rights granted by the Alaska Constitution.

The filibuster on the bill began Thursday when it took hours to get through the first two amendments, resulting in a call to table the bill until Saturday. While the pace was somewhat faster during Saturday’s floor session, it resulted in some of the most acrimonious public activity so far this year at the Capitol.

“You brought this upon us!” Rep. Jennie Armstrong, an Anchorage Democrat who identifies as pansexual, shouted across the House chambers, according to a report by the Alaska Beacon. “You are the majority. You said this is your priority. Give us the right to defend the children in our districts who you are hurting because of this.”

“Yeah, well, you’re discriminating against women!” Allard shouted back.

“I’m a woman, Jamie!” Armstrong responded, raising her voice even louder.

The 23-member Republican-led House majority sought to thwart the 16-member minority caucus by voting to table the amendments without discussion, which led to a standoff and ultimately an agreement where some amendments were allowed to be presented with a time limit on how long each member could speak.

The divisiveness of the issue was reflected in the votes related to the amendments, with most being 21-19 tallies that included three members of the majority joining the minority (while a Republican not affiliated with either caucus voted with the majority).

The unaffiliated Republican, Rep. David Eastman of Wasilla, repeatedly referred to transgender girls as boys, and said issues of safety and fairness to girls in sports were at stake with the bill. Rep. Sara Hannan, a Juneau Democrat, at one point in the debate noted that according to science all human zygotes start out as female.

“It’s only after about six or eight weeks in where there’s a first exposure of a wave of testosterone that a baby boy might develop in utero,” she said. “So the question is are we all transgender?”

Saturday’s floor session began at about 10:30 a.m. and ended after 11 p.m. Sunday’s floor session, when final passage of the bill will be debated, is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

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