Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson vetoed House Bill (HB) 1570 on Monday, sending a controversial bill which has captured national media attention back to the State Legislature. The governor announced his decision to veto the bill in a news conference at the Governor’s Mansion.
HB1570, sponsored by State Rep. Robin Lundstrum and State Sen. Alan Clark, aims to bar health care professionals from providing gender transition medical procedures and surgeries to Arkansas transgender children under the age of 18. Procedures and surgeries outlawed for minors in HB1570 include gender reassignment surgery and the use of cross-sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen. Additionally, HB1570, also known at the “Save Adolescents from Experimentation Act,” bars the use of state funds for gender transition health care for minors and allows insurance companies to deny coverage for gender transition procedures and surgeries for transgender Arkansans of any age.
Supporters of HB1570, including bill cosponsor Clark, say the bill protects children.
“[HB1570] protects children from making mistakes that they will have a very difficult time coming back from,” Clark said on the floor of the state Senate last week. Clark’s comments were notable in that he referenced gender transition surgeries and procedures as “mistakes.”
Faulkner County’s own State Sen. Jason Rapert described the bill as “common sense” in comments on the floor of the Senate following Clark’s presentation last week.
The governor, however, pushed back on HB1570 and discussed the concerning precedents passage of the bill could set in his comments on Monday at the Governor’s Mansion.
“The most recent action of the General Assembly, while well-intentioned, is off course and I must veto HB1570,” the governor said. “If HB1570 becomes law, we are creating new standards of legislative interference with physicians and parents as they deal with some of the most complex and sensitive matters involving young people.”
Describing HB1570 as “over-broad” and an “overreach,” the governor cited the fact the bill is opposed by leading medical organizations in Arkansas and said he was concerned the impact the bill could have on the mental health of transgender children in Arkansas.
The governor, however, said that he recognizes his veto is largely symbolic. With broad support amongst republicans in both chambers of the state legislature, state lawmakers will likely easily obtain the simple majority needed to override the governor’s veto of HB1570. The symbolism of the veto, however, is important to the governor.
“I am hopeful that my [veto of HB1570] will cause conservative republican legislators to think through the issues [HB1570 addresses] again,” the governor said. “Hopefully, [legislators] will come up with a more restrained approach that allows a thoughtful study of the science and ethics surrounding the issues before acting.”
Monday’s announcement by the governor to veto HB1570 is the latest in a series of actions in which the largely republican state legislature and the governor have been at odds. In recent days, reports have emerged to suggest that the state’s Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero will undergo a confirmation hearing by the General Assembly, the first cabinet appointee to undergo one in 40 years. The governor, however, pushed back on any idea that there is any significant rift between him and other republican lawmakers in the state.
“[The legislative leadership] and I have one of the most positive relationships we’ve had while working on key issues,” the governor said. “I think it’s a good relationship we have that can be defined sometimes by tension. But that’s okay.”
The governor also commented on the sheer number of controversial bills which have come through the state legislature since January that address divisive cultural topics. In the past three months, bills which address transgender rights, abortion and other issues have passed which placed limits that have received national attention.
“Some of [the controversial bills] are unnecessary,” the governor said, citing an unnamed bill he signed earlier on Monday which addressed issues he didn’t disagree with, but were not a problem in Arkansas. “Sometimes, you have to pull back and [question] the role of the state.”
As of press time, it’s unclear when the state legislature will take up consideration of a vote to override the governor’s veto of HB1570.