BOISE – Sen. Fred Martin is frustrated.
He sent out surveys to his constituents to see what their top issues were. They returned postcards, pointing to property taxes, education, transportation and the sales tax on groceries.
“Not one constituent, and I’ve got hundreds and hundreds, maybe a thousand of ‘em, not one constituent indicated transgender students in high schools — not one,” he said.
Martin, R-Boise, is the chairman of the Senate Health & Welfare Committee. “I’ve been dealing with this issue for a year and a half,” he said, ever since he was appointed to the chairmanship.
Among his first experiences as chairman, he said, was hearing from the then-director of the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare, Russ Barron, that “he is under court order to comply with the judge’s ruling,” requiring Idaho to allow transgender Idahoans to change the gender markers on their birth certificates to match their gender identity.
Barron didn’t want lawmakers to do something that would send him and other H&W employees to prison, Martin said.
Martin, a faithful adherent of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, didn’t like the idea of Idaho just letting anyone, including minors, change that gender marker at will, as long as they’ve got parental permission. That’s the current law in Idaho, after the court case.
“I believe that there needs to be an additional step for minors that they’ve got to go through, to think about what they’re doing,” Martin said, adding, “I’ve worked on the suicide prevention board for eight years now. … These adolescents that are not feeling fully a part of society, for one reason or another,” are at increased risk of suicide, he said. “Definitely those that are questioning their sexuality have a greater potential for suicide. This is to get them in to a medical professional.”
Martin worked with other lawmakers and H&W to craft a rule that would allow the changes, but add a requirement for a medical attestation for minors. That was in effect for about a year, but then the state Board of Health & Welfare discovered that its procedure for adopting that rule was flawed, so the state returned to the status quo: Minors can change their gender marker with parental permission; adults may do so without restriction.
“The status quo is not acceptable to me,” said Martin, who acknowledged that his religious views play into his attitudes on the issue. “Your sex is your sex — to me, that doesn’t really change.”
“I would prefer, in an ideal world, to go back to what we were doing before,” he said, when Idaho didn’t allow such birth certificate changes at all. But he acknowledged, “We don’t live in that world.” The courts have found otherwise.
With House-passed legislation, HB 509, pending in the Senate to directly defy the court order and again forbid birth certificate changes that allow Idahoans to have birth certificates with gender markers that match their gender identity, Martin last week introduced legislation to impose the minors-medical-attestation rule as the new state law.
“This is to try to move back a tiny bit from that, and give some of us a better feeling as to what should be done,” he said.
Martin said he didn’t mean his bill to be interpreted as a slap at HB 509, but when he left the committee meeting where he introduced the bill, HB 509’s sponsor, Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot, was waiting in the hallway to scold him. He brushed her off.
“Whether or not 509 is passed or not, we still need my bill,” he said. HB 509 would almost certainly be stayed and a court fight would ensue, Martin said; in the meantime, his bill could serve as a “backstop.”
Martin said he liked the administrative rule that was briefly in effect. “It was working,” he said, as the numbers of minors changing their birth certificate markers declined.
Idaho’s seen three bills regarding transgender Idahoans introduced thus far this session, all drawing major opposition and criticism for constitutionally questionable provisions. One, criminalizing medical treatment for transgender youth, died in committee. Two others, HB 509 and HB 500, which seeks to forbid transgender girls or women from playing on women’s teams in high school or college sports, is pending in the Senate; a hearing on HB 500 continues Monday morning in a Senate committee.
Martin feels angst over those proposals. “Some of these bills are just hateful, in my opinion,” he said, “and are not needed.”
On Thursday, well into her second year in office, Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin got her first chance to break a tie in the Idaho Senate. McGeachin voted “no” on HB 399, a fairly obscure bill proposed by the Idaho Department of Finance that had drawn a 16-16 tied vote. McGeachin’s vote killed the House-passed bill.
The bill proposed to allow collection agencies to collect incidental charges incurred in the contract between the creditor and the debtor, while also reducing some licensing and reporting requirements for collection agents, debt counselors, credit counselors and credit repair entities. It was estimated to result in a $250,000 a year loss to the state due to the decrease in reporting requirements and associated fees.
McGeachin declined an interview request about her tie-breaking vote. HB 399 passed the House, 42-27, on Feb. 14.