HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana Legislature voted Thursday to advance a bill that would ban transgender athletes from participating in school and university sports according to the gender with which they identify.
The governors of North Dakota and Kansas vetoed similar measures this week.
The Montana House and Senate approved the bill largely along party lines, after it was to become void if the federal government withholds education funding from the state over gender discrimination and an appeal by the state fails.
President Joe Biden signed an executive order on his first day in office banning discrimination based on gender, raising concern among officials in the Montana university system that $350 million in education funding — mostly for student loans and grants — could be on the line if the measure is signed into law.
In the state House, the amended bill passed 60-39. In the Senate, it was advanced with a 27-23 vote, after several Republican lawmakers joined Democrats in voting against it.
The House and Senate must vote one more time before it can go to Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte, who has not said if he would sign the measure into law.
Supporters of the bill say it will ensure the playing field in girls’ sports remains fair. However, a by The Associated Press found that in more than 20 states where such bills were proposed this year, most bill sponsors could not cite a single instance in their own state or region where such participation has caused problems.
North Dakota's Republican Gov. Doug Burgum similar legislation Wednesday, saying that fairness in girls’ sports is not in danger. In , Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed a similar bill Thursday after calling it “regressive.”
“We should probably follow suit, and have a little more respect for our friends and neighbors,” Montana Sen. Ryan Lynch, a Democrat, said Thursday.
Opponents of the measure say it further harms already marginalized transgender youth. They have also raised concern over statements by the NCAA indicating the organization could revoke the opportunity to host championship events in states where such laws have been enacted, including popular football events in Montana’s two largest universities.
Sen. Keith Regier, a Republican who carried the legislation in the Montana Senate, dismissed the concern, saying, “It’s an old argument from back when Idaho was the only state to have this law."
Three Republican-controlled states have signed similar measures into law this year – Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee. Idaho's law was blocked by a court ruling last year.
Samuels is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.