Senate tables transgender sports bill again, likely ending its chances for now

Door ‘broken down’ to get senators to the floor to vote

By: - May 17, 2022 5:41 pm
This is a picture of the Alaska State Capitol on May 5, 2022 in Juneau, Alaska.

The Alaska State Capitol on May 5, 2022 in Juneau, Alaska. (Lisa Phu / Alaska Beacon)

A controversial Senate bill that would prohibit transgender girls from competing in girls sports got tabled Tuesday on the Senate floor – and, this time, it’s likely to stay that way.

After placing a call on the house, Anchorage Republican Sen. Natasha von Imhof made a motion to table Senate Bill 140. Bill sponsor Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, objected, adding, “A vote to table the bill is the same as the vote to kill the bill.” The body voted 11 to 8 to table the bill.

“I think setting that bill aside was just the best use of our time, is the most efficient thing, effective thing for the Legislature to do,” Juneau Democratic Sen. Jesse Kiehl said. “That bill cannot pass this legislative session, and so it is not a good use of the legislators’ time when we need to figure out the fiscal picture.”

Opponents say it takes state in wrong direction

Kiehl strongly opposes the bill. “That bill is harmful to the most vulnerable kids in Alaska, and doesn’t solve something, that actually isn’t a problem,” he said. “So given the problems of trans suicide and the benefits of athletics to every kid, including trans kids, the bill takes Alaska in the wrong direction.”

Anchorage Republican Sen. Mia Costello was one of the eight no votes to table the bill: “It should have a vote on the floor just like any other bill.” Costello said the votes were there to pass the bill, “There were probably people who were going to vote for it but who also voted to table it because there were, like, 20 amendments from the minority and it was going to take up time and we didn’t have that luxury.” 

Costello said “it’s pretty safe to say” the bill is dead, adding, “I don’t think there’s any desire on the House side to move that bill.” When asked if she supports the bill, Costello said she’d rather not answer, “I’ll wait until next year if I’m around and it comes up again.” 

Sen. Hughes first tabled the bill last week on May 11 after bill co-sponsor Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, asked to be excused from the floor due to feeling sick. At that point, Senate debate on the bill had spanned two days with five amendments offered. On Monday, May 16, Sen. Hughes moved to take SB140 off the table and the body voted 12-8 to do so. The bill was postponed until Tuesday morning. 

Where things get interesting

At the start of the Senate floor session Tuesday morning, 17 of 20 Senate members were present. Sens. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks; Bert Stedman, R-Sitka; and Reinbold were not there; Reinbold was excused. As floor debate on SB140 was about to resume, von Imhof placed a call on the house, noting that two members were missing. A call on the house means that members who are not excused are required to go to the floor session. If members do not go to the floor on their own accord, they may be compelled to go by the Senate sergeant-at-arms or pages.

Anchorage Democratic Sen. Bill Wielechowski said the budget conference committee was meeting when the call was placed, “and we were trying to hash out some of the differences. And if we didn’t get it done, we were going to run out of time.”

To prevent anyone from disturbing the committee, Wielechowski said Sen. Stedman locked the door, “and then he placed one of those door jams up against the door, so that no one can enter the room.”

Wielechowski said the sergeant-at-arms and Capitol security had to “break down” the door: “We said, ‘We’re working on budget and we got to get it done.’ And they unlocked the door and then had to exert quite a bit of force to get in the room.”

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Once that happened, Wielechowski said, “Everybody laughed. They knew where we were, you know. We just had to get it done. I mean, we just couldn’t go back to the floor until this was done. And they waited there. We weren’t trying to hide or anything; we just had to get the work done. And if we didn’t get it done, we weren’t going to have a budget on time.”

About 25 minutes after the call on the house was placed, 19 senators were on the Senate floor to vote on tabling SB140. Afterward, Sen. Hughes was not available to comment, but one of her staff members said she is “disappointed” with the vote count.

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Lisa Phu
Lisa Phu

Lisa Phu covers justice, education, and culture for the Alaska Beacon. Previously, she spent eight years as an award-winning journalist, reporting for the Juneau Empire, KTOO Public Media, KSTK, and Wrangell Sentinel. She's also been Public Information Officer for the City and Borough of Juneau, lead facilitator for StoryCorps Alaska based in Utqiagvik, and a teacher in Tanzania and Bhutan. Originally from New York, Lisa is a first generation Chinese American and a mom of two young daughters. She can be contacted at [email protected]