Bill passed the Idaho House last year, but failed in Senate

By Audrey Dutton, Idaho Capital Sun, January 31, 2023

A bill introduced in the Idaho House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee on Tuesday would make it illegal to provide Idaho minors with medical treatments for gender dysphoria.

Rep. Bruce Skaug, R-Nampa, presented the legislation to the committee, which he chairs. It would broaden existing “female genital mutilation” laws to include hormone therapy and surgical treatments for transgender Idahoans under 18, making it a felony to provide such medical care, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

The ban on gender-confirmation health care would apply regardless of whether a parent gives consent for the treatments.

“There are a small number of children who suffer genuinely from gender dysphoria,” Skaug told the committee. “… That’s a genuine mental issue that needs to be dealt with, and should still be dealt with, but not by cutting off healthy body parts.”

Gender dysphoria is long-term discomfort associated with a person’s gender identity not matching the sex they were assigned at birth. It may begin in childhood or adolescence, and the discomfort can worsen as the person goes through puberty.

The recommended treatments for patients with gender dysphoria may include surgery, hormone therapy or “puberty blockers” — which temporarily suppress the physical changes of puberty, such as the growth of facial hair and breasts.

Existing state and federal laws make female genital mutilation a crime. Those laws prohibit the practice of removing the clitoris or other parts of the vulva, which is a ritual in some cultures or faiths.

Idaho’s law against female genital mutilation does not apply when the procedure is “(n)ecessary to the health of the person on whom it is performed and is performed by a person licensed in the place of its performance as a medical practitioner.” This bill would change that.

Legislators in other states have introduced and passed similar bills, and lawsuits followed from parents of transgender children, the federal government and others. Courts have temporarily blocked several states from enforcing these laws and policies.

Skaug acknowledged that there are “mixed results in the courts right now on this across the country.”

Skaug introduced similar legislation last year, during the 2022 legislative session. That bill passed through the Idaho House State Affairs Committee and was approved by the House with a vote of 55-13. It failed to get a hearing in the Idaho Senate.

The bill must receive a full public hearing before it can advance.

Rep. Chris Mathias, D-Boise, said he hopes that, in such a hearing, Skaug can show that the bill would benefit transgender minors in Idaho.

“I know that when we talk about this, the magnitude of the perceived problem is presented as if what we are talking about is quite common,” Mathias said. “Unlike last year, this year, I would really like to hear from an Idahoan who has had (gender-affirming hormone or surgical care) and regrets it and would be, or would have been, a beneficiary of this law had it been in place. Last year, we only heard from people out of state; I want to hear from someone who lives here, has lived here, and plans on living here, to hear how this would impact them.”

Mathias also suggested that the legislation is counterproductive to Idaho’s efforts to recruit and keep medical providers. Idaho has long ranked last in the U.S. for the number of providers per capita.

“When we’re making investments in the creation of (medical residencies to attract and train doctors), which is what we are doing — which is what we should be doing — we have to realize that when we criminalize standards-of-care practices … that we undermine the perceived value of these residencies,” he said. “So, while we’re making expenditures to get doctors here, we’re also doing things like this that undermine that investment, and that’s a balance that we have to strike. So I would ask you to think about that as we’re preparing for the hearing.”

FEATURED IMAGE:  Idaho Rep. Bruce Skaug, R-Nampa, (center) listens to debate during a House State Affairs committee meeting at the State Capitol building on Jan. 11, 2023. Skaug introduced legislation in his own committee on Jan. 31 that would criminalize hormone or surgical care for juveniles with gender dysphoria. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

Idaho Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Idaho Capital Sun maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Christina Lords for questions: Follow Idaho Capital Sun on Facebook and Twitter.