The Arkansas General Assembly has passed a bill that prohibits gender transition procedures for minors in Arkansas by overriding a veto from Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
Both the Arkansas Senate and the Arkansas House of Representatives voted to override Hutchinson’s veto on Tuesday, April 6. The House voted 72 to 25 to back the bill, while the Senate voted 25 to 8 in favor of the bill.
To override a governor’s veto, the Arkansas legislative bodies require only a simple majority.
The bill in question, House Bill 1570, will become the Arkansas Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act. It was originally passed by the House on March 10 and by the Senate on March 30.
Hutchinson vetoed the bill on Monday, April 5, calling it a “well-intended” bill but one that was overbroad and a “vas government overreach.” According to Hutchinson, the bill would result in the state being the “definitive oracle of medical care,” as opposed to medical experts or parents.
Under the SAFE Act, gender transition procedures for individuals under the age of 18 are prohibited in the state, with physicians unable to perform the procedures or refer minors to other health care professionals for gender transition procedures. The act also prohibits public funds from being distributed or granted to organizations or individuals who provide gender transition procedures to minors.
The SAFE Act also prohibits reimbursement for gender transition procedures for minors as part of health benefit plans for insurance policies.
When Hutchinson announced the veto during a pen-and-pad meeting at the Governor’s Mansion, he conceded that the legislature would likely override his veto. “Whenever you had this bill pass with overwhelming majority, I fully expect a veto override. That’s the legislative prerogative, like this is the responsibility that I have. I’ve made my statement on it, and we’ll see where it goes from here,” Hutchinson said.
While the legislature has passed the bill, other organizations are planning to fight it, including in court. The ACLU of Arkansas has announced plans to challenge the law in court with ACLU Arkansas executive director Holly Dickson stating that the organization is “committed to doing all we can to support these families and ensure they know how to continue to fight for their rights and get the care and resources they need.”
“Today Arkansas legislators disregarded widespread, overwhelming, and bipartisan opposition to this bill and continued their discriminatory crusade against trans youth. As Governor Hutchinson noted in his veto message, denying care to trans youth can lead to harmful and life-threatening consequences. This is a sad day for Arkansas, but this fight is not over — and we’re in it for the long haul. Attempting to block trans youth from the care they need simply because of who they are is not only wrong, it’s also illegal, and we will be filing a lawsuit to challenge this law in court. We are hearing from concerned families all over the state who are afraid about the impact of this bill and others like it,” Dickson said in a statement.
This is the latest controversial piece of legislation impacting trans rights that has passed in Arkansas during the 93rdGeneral Assembly. Previously, the legislature passed Senate Bill 289 and Senate Bill 354, with Hutchinson signing both.
Senate Bill 289 addressed health care providers’ right to “not participate in non-emergency treatments that violate their conscience.” Senate Bill 354, or the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, prohibits trans women from participating on women’s sports teams in high school and college sports in Arkansas.
These bills have increasingly forced Arkansas into the national spotlight, a fact that Hutchinson acknowledged in his briefing on Monday. The full impact of the laws is not currently known, although there are rumblings that the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act could run afoul of the NCAA, which has issued a guidebook for transgender student-athletes through its Office of Diversity.
There have also been concerns that the legislation would cause economic harm to the state. While Hutchinson said the state’s image was not the sole reason he vetoed the bill, he acknowledged that it was vital to consider the impact the legislation would have. “But you have to be concerned the image that you are expressing from a state standpoint. I want people in Arkansas and across the country to understand, that whether they’re transgender or otherwise, they are loved, they are appreciated. They make up part of our state. We want to send a message of tolerance and diversity,” he said.
Another state leader, the Walmart heir Tom Walton, who serves as the Home Region program committee chair for the Walton Family Foundation, penned a statement condemning the passage of the bill, stating that “any policy that limits individual opportunity also limits our state’s potential.”
“We are alarmed by the string of policy targeting LGBTQ people in Arkansas. This trend is harmful and sends the wrong message to those willing to invest in or visit our state. We support Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s recent veto of discriminatory policy and implore government, business and community leaders to consider the impact of existing and future policy that limits basic freedoms and does not promote inclusiveness in our communities and economy.
The SAFE Act will take effect 90 days after the General Assembly formally recesses.