The Arkansas House Education Committee recommended the passage of Senate Bill (SB) 354 on Thursday, sending State Sen. Missy Irvin’s controversial bill which bars transgender women from competing in women’s sports in Arkansas to the full House floor for a vote likely next week.
SB354, filed by Irvin and State Rep. Sonia Eubanks Barker in February after Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge held a news conference discussing the legislation and President Joe Biden’s January executive order which placed greater emphasis on promoting inclusion for transgender men and women, bars transgender women from competing in women’s sports on the elementary, secondary and collegiate level in the state.
In presenting the bill before the committee on Thursday, Barker said there were numerous examples of instances where this bill would have been appropriate.
“I could cite you example after example of what this bill addresses, but I’m sure you’ve heard, seen and read where biological males are competing in women’s sports,” Barker said.
In direct questioning later in the presentation from other representatives, however, Barker said she had no knowledge of any instance in Arkansas where transgender women had competed in women’s sports.
The bill, which garnered widespread support in the state Senate among Republicans in last week’s vote, specifically states that there is a need to protect women who compete in sports due to the biological differences between biological women and men. In Thursday’s committee meeting, Republican representatives spoke similarly, with Barker describing men as “dominant.” State Rep. Richard Womack spoke against the assertion by one member of the public who spoke against SB354 at Thursday’s meeting and said the bill endorsed bullying and exclusion.
“If bullying is truly a concern, I would submit to the committee that using [laws] to allow [transgender women] who are clearly and physically dominant to dominate in sports against a weaker sex would be bullying,” Womack said.
Additionally, Irvin cited a transgender woman she knows who supports her bill.
In the final vote on Thursday, some “nays” were heard voicing their opposition against SB354, but otherwise, the bill passed the committee handily. While not yet on the calendar, a full House vote is likely to come early next week.
Another house committee, the Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee, also recommended the passage of another bill on Thursday. SB85, sponsored by State Sen. Cecile Bledsoe and State Rep. Joe Cloud, would require abortion providers to perform an ultrasound to show pregnant women their fetus prior to gaining consent for an abortion. The bill, which passed the State Senate last week, might be performative considering Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s signing of SB6, a bill which bans almost all abortions in the state of Arkansas.
Another abortion bill, SB463, sponsored by State Sen. Blake Johnson and State Rep. Tony Furman, passed the State Senate on Thursday in a near party-line vote. While also potentially performative, SB463 requires abortion providers to report abortions which were performed on pregnant women who were raped to law enforcement authorities.
Thursday being a busy day for the state legislature, the State Senate also passed SB289, the Medical Ethics and Diversity Act. Previously reported on by the Log Cabin, SB289 provides medical professionals a “right of conscience” which grants them the right to not participate in a non-emergency health care service that violates their conscience. Supporters of the bill have noted it would most frequently be used in cases of abortions.
A statement submitted to the Log Cabin by the Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel’s Stephanie Nichols said SB289’s passage is critical.
“No American should be forced to violate their ethical and religious beliefs,” Nichols wrote. “Doctors, nurses and other medical providers should enjoy this same constitutional protection.”
SB289 was held up in the Senate for over a month due to objections to it which required the addition of more bill language. The bill passed the Senate in a 25-6 vote on Thursday and heads to the governor for his signature.