The Utah Senate gave final legislative approval on Friday to a bill that would ban transgender surgeries for Utah children and teens, as well as place an indefinite moratorium on new treatments including puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones for minors.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, a practicing family physician, now goes to Gov. Spencer Cox’s desk.

The Senate voted 20-8 to pass SB16. Two Republicans, Sen. David Hinkins, R-Ferron, and Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, joined Democrats in voting against the bill. Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, who voted against the bill in earlier Senate votes, was not present for Friday’s final vote.

The vote comes less than 24 hours after the House made changes and voted to approve its version of SB16, which implemented what LGBTQ advocates have called a “de facto ban” on not just surgeries but also hormonal treatments,

“The House had its way with this bill,” Kennedy acknowledged on the Senate floor, but he argued in favor of agreeing with the changes to get the bill across the finish line even if it’s “not a perfect piece of legislation.”

“I’m committed to doing my best in this area,” Kennedy said. “I’m afraid that I’m going to be working on this for the rest of my political life. But I’m happy to partner with honest, professional people to try to do justice to this community. Because I have great respect for them and want nothing but the best for the children in all of our state.”

Will Utah be sued for banning transgender care?

Utah legislators fully expect the bill to be challenged in court. Kennedy said on the Senate floor he would “bet every dollar that I have in my bank account right now that this will be litigated.”

“There’s going to be further action on this,” he promised, though he added he was “really impressed” that “vain promises were not offered to me to avoid lawsuits” in his conversations with Equality Utah.

Sen. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, speaks to his SB16 transgender bill in the Senate at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 27, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Asked whether it would have been worth sending the bill back to the House to address concerns, Kennedy told reporters after Friday’s vote it was clear the bill was final after negotiations resulted in “no movement on either side.”

“This is a political process that requires all of us to be in it together, and when one side can’t give, the other side can’t give, then we are where we are,” he said.

If signed by the governor, SB16 would outlaw sex characteristic reassignment surgeries for Utahns under the age of 18 and place an indefinite moratorium on hormonal treatments for Utah children and teens not already being treated for gender dysphoria for at least six months.

An earlier version of the bill, which was endorsed by a House committee earlier this week, specified the moratorium would end after four years. However, House sponsor Rep. Katy Hall, R-South Ogden, successfully pushed a change to the bill to strip out the moratorium’s end date.

The bill would still require the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct a “systematic review” of medical evidence regarding hormonal transgender treatments and provide recommendations to the Legislature, as well as require a health care provider to meet certain requirements before providing hormonal transgender treatments. It doesn’t require the Utah Legislature to revisit the policy after that systematic review is complete.

Hall’s changes to SB16 also added provisions stating a minor could bring a malpractice lawsuit against health care providers if the individual “later disaffirms consent,” up until the minor turns 25 years old.

The bill would also have an immediate effective date upon signature from the governor.

Will Utah’s governor sign SB16?

Cox said last week he doesn’t plan on vetoing the bill, calling it a “very reasonable approach.” Asked Thursday whether he still supports the bill given the House’s changes, a spokeswoman for the governor said, “we’re reviewing.” After Friday’s vote, the governor’s office did not immediately issue a response to a request for comment.

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Utah Gov. Spencer Cox says he won’t veto ban on transgender surgeries, puberty blockers for kids
Sue Robbins, a member of the Equality Utah Transgender Advisory Council, and Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, confer after SB16 passed in the Senate at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 27, 2023. The Utah Senate gave final legislative approval to SB16 that would ban transgender surgeries for Utah children and teens, as well as place an indefinite moratorium on new treatments including puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones for minors. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Utah’s LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Utah continues to oppose SB16. Marina Lowe, policy director for Equality Utah, told the Deseret News after Friday’s vote she was “not surprised” by the Utah Legislature’s actions.

“This is essentially a ban on access to medical care for transgender youth,” Lowe said. “Everywhere where one has been passed, there is litigation because it’s the government stepping in between parents and children and their doctors.”

Surgeries and medications including puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones are among the medical treatments that transgender and nonbinary people sometimes use to transition or alter their sexual characteristics. Some medical professionals, as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics, say the best way to treat children and teens with gender dysphoria is to provide them with medical interventions often referred to as gender-affirming care.

‘We see you’

Senate Minority Leader Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, choked back tears while she spoke against the bill, saying parents of transgender children have been “just begging for their families and their children. Many of them are children that I’ve known for years.”

“We see you. And we love your beautiful children,” Escamilla said. “And we (Utah Senate Democrats) will continue to work ... for good public policy and try to mitigate impact into their lives. ... They are not invisible.”

Utah’s GOP-controlled Legislature has rallied behind SB16 to regulate transgender medical care for Utahns under 18, arguing Utah must step in and “protect” children because there is not enough research on the long-term impact of these procedures and medications on children.

In the early weeks of the Utah Legislature’s 2023 session, SB16 has quickly made its way through the legislative process as it’s been among the first prioritized by legislative leaders. Kennedy spent months crafting the bill ahead of the session that began Jan. 17.

Voting is completed on SB16 transgender bill in the Senate at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 27, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The bill was heard in two separate committee hearings ahead of the Senate’s vote Friday. Both public hearings were filled with personal stories of both the harm and benefits of transgender medical procedures on children and teens. They also heard from medical professionals who argued both for and against the bill.

Earlier this week, the House committee was packed with dozens of people who rallied earlier that day on the steps of the Utah Capitol in support of Utah’s transgender youth. Several teens who identified as transgender spoke to that committee, urging lawmakers to not restrict their access to treatments that they say saved them from suicide.

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, issued a message for Utah’s transgender youth and their families after the vote.

“We just want parents of transgender children to know that we see you. We are so grateful for the love and compassion that you have for your children. And thank you for loving them. We will continue to fight for your family as well.”

Sue Robbins, a member of Equality Utah’s Transgender Advisory Council, said “we’ll never be done” fighting for transgender kids.

“You deserve everything,” she said, her eyes brimming with tears. “We will fix this.”

Robbins said the Legislature’s action is “based on a lack of knowledge, and we will keep working at it so that everybody understands you. You are beautiful and we love you.”

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