SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would restrict Utahns from changing their sex listed on their birth certificates has been dropped.
Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, told the Deseret News he decided to pull HB153 from a House committee agenda that had been scheduled for Thursday afternoon to give the issue more "time and study."
He said he doesn't intend to revisit the issue this session in order to give all parties time to get "comfortable" with a solution.
Nelson's bill drew ire from LGBTQ advocates who called the bill an attack on transgender Utahns.
Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, credited Nelson with listening to LGBTQ Utahns before deciding to drop the bill.
"Thankfully Rep. Nelson heard those concerns. He went out of his way to meet with the transgender community face to face to talk to them about the issues — and he listened," Williams said.
He said the transgender community was "extremely alarmed" and "frightened" about the impact HB153 would have because the bill would "essentially suggest transgender people don't have a legal right to exist."
The withdrawal of the bill comes less than 24 hours after Nelson suggested he had arrived at a solution for the bill. Wednesday, he issued a news release announcing he had released a substitute for the bill that would "preserve the intent of HB153 that a birth certificate retains its statutory purpose as a vital record while allowing gender identity to be added to a driver’s license, which functions as a record of personal identification."
“This substitute bill reflects input from various interested parties and provides a workable resolution of the issues presented,” Nelson said in a statement Wednesday. “Those who assert a different gender identity from the sex on their birth certificate are free to designate that identity on their driver's license, which is used as the most common form of personal identification.”
Yet the next morning, the bill was removed from the House Health and Human Services Standing Committee.
Along with the withdrawal of Nelson's bill, another bill was also withdrawn: a bill that would have given judges clearer guidelines when they rule on requests to change birth certificates, sponsored by Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross.
Weiler ran the bill in response to a case in front of the Utah Supreme Court in which an Ogden judge denied a request citing unclear state law. Weiler said he ran the legislation because some judges are denying every gender change petition because there's no law saying they must grant them.
Weiler issued a statement Thursday suggesting the issue will be revisited — just not this year.
"This is a difficult issue with a lot of implications," Weiler said. "I ran a bill last year and encountered multiple obstacles. I took it to interim, and was unable to overcome them. Rep. Nelson heard my bill in interim and wanted to go in a different direction. He ran into many of the same obstacles. This issue is not going away. The state, at some point, has to adopt a policy."
In response to Weiler also dropping his bill, Williams said, "It's clear we have a lot of education to do around transgender issues in the state, and we need to continue that."
However, Williams credited Utah's lawmakers for approaching transgender issues with "compassion and goodwill."
"So I'm hopeful we can continue to engage lawmakers in the future," he said.