It took the Utah state legislature just 30 minutes on March 25 to override a gubernatorial veto of House Bill 11 (HB11) designed to protect girls and women’s sports in the state’s schools from unfair competition from biological males who believe they are women.
The veto override, passed on the last day of the legislative session by a two-thirds vote in the state House and Senate, was followed by a special session to pass another bill to appropriate $500,000 to defend state schools from any litigation resulting from the new law. The lack of such a defense fund was one of the reasons listed in the governor’s veto letter.
The new law provides that should its total ban on males competing in female sports be blocked in the courts, a new state commission will decide the eligibility of such athletes on a case-by-case basis. Utah currently has four transgender athletes, but only one of them is affected by the law – a biological male playing in a girls sport. The law does not prohibit biological women from competing on men’s teams.
Utah’s governor had also expressed concerns over the law interrupting lengthy negotiations over a bill that would have allowed males who think they are females to compete in girls and women’s sports unless such participation “could pose a safety threat or dominate a sport in a way that would eliminate competitive opportunities for biological females.” The negotiations bogged down, and the legislature passed HB11 in early March.
The bill’s sponsor, State Rep. Kera Birkeland, said the state could not afford to wait any longer to protect girls and women’s sports.
“When we don’t act and we just go with the status quo, we just do more harm to both transgender youth and women athletes,” Birkeland told her fellow legislators in requesting the veto override vote.
The override makes Utah the 12th state to pass some kind of legislation restricting girls and women’s sports teams to biological females, although three of those states – Kansas, Louisiana and North Dakota, and most recently, Indiana – were ultimately vetoed by their governors. In South Dakota, Gov. Kristi Noem vetoed one such bill, only to later introduce a subsequent version, which was passed and signed into law there.
Arizona’s recently passed women’s sports bill awaits Gov. Doug Ducey’s signature, who hasn’t indicated whether he will sign it. A vote in the Indiana legislature to override Gov. Eric Holcomb’s veto there will take place on May 24.
“Save Women’s Sports” bills were blocked by courts in Idaho and West Virginia after they were enacted.
The current cultural pressures to force the nation’s high schools, colleges and universities to allow men to participate in girls and women’s sports runs counter to the 50-year-old federal law known as Title IX, which was designed to provide equal opportunities for women with regard to all aspects of secondary education, including athletics.
Title IX was on the minds of Utah legislators when they overwhelmingly passed HB11, according to Speaker of the House Brad Wilson.
“This summer will mark 50 years since Title IX was enacted, in part to ensure an opportunity for girls to participate in school athletic events,” said Wilson. “Since then, thousands of girls have undeniably benefitted from being part of a team, practicing, and competing. The Legislature’s decision to override the governor’s veto of H.B. 11 establishes a process that will help ensure girls can compete on a level playing field while outlining a policy and contingent process for transgender athletes.”
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