Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire
Rep. Jamie Allard, R-Eagle River, Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, and Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, discuss an amendment to a bill restricting transgender participation in school sports during a House floor session Thursday.

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire Rep. Jamie Allard, R-Eagle River, Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, and Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, discuss an amendment to a bill restricting transgender participation in school sports during a House floor session Thursday.

With time for key issues this session running out, House stalled by filibuster of transgender sports ban bill

Bill tabled until Saturday, making its chances bleak with Legislature scheduled to adjourn Wednesday

This is a developing story.

A de facto filibuster on a bill restricting transgender students’ participation in sports brought the Alaska State House to a near standstill for several hours Thursday with less than a week remaining in the legislative session and a considerable amount of key legislation still pending.

Representatives with the 16-member minority caucus spoke and read at length as they introduced the first of what was expected to be several dozen amendments by the caucus, to numerous objections about straying from the specifics of the amendment by members of the majority. There were also frequent comments by the minority members about the vast number of amendments and many hours of debate that lay ahead.

There was also plenty of discussion about the impacts of the legislation, including personal anecdotes. Rep. Alyse Galvin, an Anchorage independent, after reading a legal opinion from the Legislative Council’s office stating the bill would “at a minimum cause embarrassment, humiliation and anxiety” to transgender people, and subject them to potentially abusive situations, said that has been the case within her family.

“I have three children who are not trans and one who is, and I can tell you that what (the council’s office) are referring to — the embarrassment, and humiliation, harassment, anxiety — my goodness, we had no idea what was going on,” she said. “And I know everybody has their parental traumas and tribulations. I appreciate that. This one really took us by surprise. This was our fourth child, so we thought we had it all down. So when we saw our child so full of anxiety because of what she was experiencing at school we had no idea that this was the issue. But indeed, as it turns out (it was) because of the stigma attached to all of this and we’re adding more stigma, I think, with this bill.”

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. A ban on transgender girls participating on girls’ high school teams already exists after the state Board of Education and Early Development enacted such a regulation last year, but the bill expands it to all education levels from elementary school through college.

Supporters of the bill say it is to protect people classified as female at birth from unequal competition, as well as potentially abusive and embarrassing situations in places such as locker rooms.

The first minority amendment by Rep. Andrew Gray, an Anchorage Democrat, stating “transgender and gender nonconforming people have the same constitutional rights and protections as other citizens” consumed well over an hour of debate before failing on a vote of 19-21. Three majority members — Bryce Edgmon, a Dillingham independent, CJ McCormick, a Bethel Democrat, and Neal Foster, a Nome Democrat — joined the minority, reflecting a pattern this session where the minority has lured away sometimes decisive numbers of votes related to the budget, education and other issues.

Shortly after the next amendment was introduced a motion was made by Edgmon to table the bill until Sunday, resulting in a lengthy at-ease and a majority of the members leaving the chamber. After a break lasting nearly two hours Edgmon restated the motion to table the bill until 10 a.m. on Saturday, which passed by a 25-15 vote. Allard and 14 other Republican members of the majority caucus opposed delaying the bill.

The bill will be subject to further amendments Saturday and if those are completed during the day it would take a three-fourths majority of the chamber to approve a vote on the bill itself the same day. That would mean the bill and any floor debate on it would occur Sunday.

The bill has essentially no chance of passing the state Senate, due both to only a few days remaining in the session and 17 of the 20 members belonging to a bipartisan majority that so far has resisted similar legislation restricting transgender rights.

When House Speaker Cathy Tilton, a Wasilla Republican, was asked during a break earlier during Thursday’s floor session why the bill was advanced to the House floor in the waning days of the session, knowing the opposition it would provoke from the minority and its bleak prospects in the Senate, she said it’s because there are enough votes for it to pass a floor vote.

“It has all the chits that it needs and so we’re moving it forward just like we would with anybody else’s bill,” she said.

Conversely, when asked why the minority was introducing so many amendments on a bill unlikely to become law, Rep. Sara Hannan, a Juneau Democrat, said “I can’t speak to why someone else offers an amendment.”

“I can speak to the fact that I think it’s a ridiculous waste of time to put up a bill that does not have a lot of support,” she said. “I think it will be hard-pressed to pass this body, let alone the other, a bill that has heard hours and hours and hours of public testimony in opposition.”

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. Among the major items still awaiting passage are the operating budget, an energy bill to deal with critical supply issues in Southcentral Alaska and an education bill in the wake of a court ruling eliminating funds for correspondence schools.

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

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