Mar. 28—MORGANTOWN — The House of Delegates spent nearly 90 minutes debating a bill regarding transgender athletes before passing it overwhelmingly. Another education-related bill, to require all high school seniors to fill out a federal financial aid application, didn't fare as well.
HB 3293 is the transgender athletes bill. It passed 78-20 with four Democrats voting yes and one Republican voting no.
It would bar transgender athletes from participating on single-sex sports teams under jurisdiction of the Secondary Schools Activities Commission, such as boys and girls basketball or tennis. It would not affect sports where there are no alternatives, such as football, or co-educational sports.
It would require the county school district to verify the athlete's sex at birth based on the student's original birth certificate. If that is not available or does not indicate the student's birth sex, the student would need to provide "a signed physician's statement indicating the pupil's sex based solely on the pupil's unaltered internal and external reproductive anatomy."
Opponents argued that the bill could harm transgender youth already subject to self-doubts and bullying.
"I didn't come to Charleston to create problems where they don't exist, " said Delegate Joey Garcia, D-Marion. The possible physical exam amounts to unwanted child sexual assault and psychological and emotional attack.
He noted that the American Academy of Pediatrics reports that 1 in 3 transgender kids attempt suicide. "That should make you uncomfortable, that should make you angry."
Delegate Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia, said about 1 % of West Virginia teens age 13-17 identify as transgender. "That's 1 % that were not going to allow in team sports, " where they could learn about team leadership, bonding and athleticism."
Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, also D-Monongalia, became angry as she talked about her daughter who left the state. "It's this kind of bill that will ensure she will never come back, " she said. "You are demonizing little children and you are demonizing my baby ! Don't do this !"
Supporters talked about the disadvantages some female athletes would experience against birth males who may be bigger and stronger.
Deelgate Roger Conley, R-Wood, read from the Bible before being interrupted on a point of order. He summarized his point: "If you're born a male, you're a male until you die." Same for females. Males should compete in male sports and vice-versa.
Delegate Chris Phillips, R-Barbour, cited four current women's track and field world records that have been broken by West Virginia high school boys.
Closing the debate, Education chair Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, cited the Connecticut case that helped spark the national debate: Two athletes born as boys began identifying as girls in their late teens, began participating in girls track and won 15 state girls' championships. A 2020 lawsuit filed by cisgender female athletes regarding that issue is still in progress.
Ellington noted that a number of states are debating similar legislation and acknowledged that 17 states mandate inclusion. He referred to the inherent physical risks some girls might experience competing against transgender girls.
"The key is to try to make it as as afe as possible but also to make it as fair as possible. ... We're not trying to be unequal according to the law. We're just tying to say there are differences.
Ellington, an OB /GYN physician, said the physical exams required aren't as invasive as opponents characterize them. "What this is trying to do is prevent problems coming here."
HB 3293 heads to the Senate.
FAFSA bill HB 2702 would have required a high school senior to fill out a FASFA — Free Application for Federal Student Aid — form as a requirement for graduation. It spelled out a waiver process for students or families who wouldn't wish to. It had two Republican and one Democrat sponsor.
Supporters argued it would help West Virginia get free federal aid for a two-or four-year degree they might otherwise miss.
Lead sponsor and Judiciary chair Moore Capito, R-Kanawha, said West Virginia saw FASFA applications drop 20 % during the pandemic. The process isn't burdensome. Louisiana and Texas passed similar laws and saw new aid money flow in and more students enter higher education.
Co-sponsor and Education vice chair Joshua Higginbotham, R-Putnam, told the story of a girl wanting to enter nursing school who was scared off by the mountain of debt she'd face. Her school counselor sat with here and guided her through the application, and in 20 minute she saw all the free aid that would cover her entire education.
Before COVID, he said, West Virginia seniors not filing FASFAs were leaving $16 million in federal money unclaimed. The bill could help kids from impoverished families get the education they needto move forward.
Opponents argued that requiring a family to fill out a form, or fill out a waiver form to avoid filling out the FAFSA form, impinges on their freedom of choice and requires them to divulge financial information they may not wish to.
Delegate Laura Kimble, R-Harrison, said, "This is a bill that is somewhat innocuous at first. ... This is actually Big Brother at its worst."
The vote was 42-56, with the vast majority of opposition from Republicans. Locally, Democrats Fleischauer, Garcia, Evan Hansen Dave Pethtel and John Williams, and Republicans Phil Mallow and Joe Statler voted for it.
Republicans Buck Jennings, Amy Summers, Terri Sypolt and Guy Ward and Democrat Walker voted against it.
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