Gov. Asa Hutchinson vetoed a bill Monday (April 5) that would prohibit gender transition procedures from being performed in state on individuals under age 18, but he acknowledged the veto likely will be overridden.
House Bill 1570, the Arkansas Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act, would prevent physicians from performing the procedures. It also would ban the use of public funds or the providing of insurance coverage for them.
The ban would not apply to services to individuals born with a medically verifiable sex development issue, such as the presence of ovarian and testicular tissue, the bill says.
The governor said the nation is watching Arkansas because the bill is another culture war-based one passed by the General Assembly. He said he doesn’t shy away from such issues “when necessary and defensible,” but this bill “while well-intended is off course.”
Hutchinson said probably fewer than 200 individuals have the kind of gender identity issues affected by the legislation.
“House Bill 1570 would put the state as the definitive oracle for medical care, overriding parents, patients and healthcare experts,” he said while reading a prepared statement to reporters at the Governor’s Mansion. “While in some instances the state must act to protect life, the state should not presume to jump into the middle of every medical, human and ethical issue. This would be and is a vast government overreach.”
He said the bill would deny medical care and lead to harms such as suicidal tendencies, drug use and social isolation. He said gender reassignment surgery is not performed on individuals under age 18. If that alone were prohibited, he would sign the bill, but as written it is too broad and does not grandfather young people currently receiving hormone treatment. Because of that, they would look to the black market or go out of state, he said.
He said he understood the General Assembly likely will override the veto, but he hopes conservative Republican legislators will rethink their support.
The bill passed the Arkansas House, 70-22, on March 10, and the Senate, 28-7, on March 29. A governor’s veto can be overridden by a simple majority vote.
Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Elm Springs, and Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, the two lead sponsors of HB 1570, defended the bill in a press conference at the Capitol following the governor’s veto announcement.
Clark said he was “profoundly disappointed” and is confident the Legislature will override. They did not provide a time frame of when they might revive the bill. They did not have any comment on potentially altering the bill to grandfather teens currently receiving medical treatment.
Lundstrum said children should be protected from “experimentation” and said the governor was right to call the measure part of a culture war.
“He is right about that. This is a culture war on children,” she said. “These children need to be protected.”
She noted that the Legislature passes hundreds of laws affecting children, including age limits for cigarettes and alcohol, child safety seat requirements for taking a child home from the hospital, tattoos, and marijuana.
“This bill is very tightly crafted,” she said. “It doesn’t go into other lanes. What it does do is protect children from sex change procedures and only those procedures that are chemical and surgical. Nothing else. It still allows for health care, and it still allows for counseling, which is incredibly important.”
Clark said people can make their own decisions when they turn 18 and said he was sympathetic to children with gender confusion, a condition he said makes them vulnerable.
“Until they’re 18, let’s take the politics, let’s take the emotion out, and let’s just protect kids,” he said.
The Legislature has passed or is considering many bills related to transgenderism and other social issues such as abortion and guns. The governor has signed some, including one that would ban all abortions in Arkansas except those to save the life of the mother. He said some of those bills weren’t necessary, including an unspecified one he had signed Monday that addressed an issue he said is not a problem in Arkansas.
He said he relies on traditional Republican tenets espoused by President Ronald Reagan: economic conservatism, social conservatism and a strong defense. The first two sometimes clash, he said.
“Sometimes you’ve got to pull back and say, ‘Is this really the role of the state?’ Is this really reflecting confidence in parents and doctors to make the decisions?’” he said.
The governor said he had met with transgender individuals and Arkansas Children’s Hospital, which has a Gender Spectrum Clinic. He said he had also heard from supporters of the bill and believes that both sides are sincere.
He said he had heard “very little, if any” feedback from the business community.
“I try to make my decisions based upon other factors,” he said. “But I also recognize the image of Arkansas is important and that we have a growing economy, and when people want to look at Arkansas, I want them to think of a place that is tolerant, that has a hate crime bill, that is acceptance of people that might be different, and that we put value on other people’s lives that might be different than ours.”
The governor supports Senate Bill 622, a “hate crime” bill being considered by legislators that would require at least 80% of a sentence to be served for certain crimes committed because the victim was associated with an identifiable group or class who share mental, physical, biological, cultural, political, or religious beliefs or characteristics.
In a related issue, the governor said in response to a question that he is disappointed in Major League Baseball’s decision to move the All-Star Game from Atlanta because of an elections law recently passed by Georgia. He said the move hurts average Georgians, baseball fans, vendors and the hospitality industry.
“I’m not very pleased with Major League Baseball’s decision,” he said. “I don’t think it’s beneficial to the sport or even to those in Georgia that they’re trying to influence.”