ATLANTA — Democratic Senator Josh McLaurin described the quiet, nearly empty Senate floor on Tuesday as his Republican colleagues caught coffee and socialized in the gallery.
He said the feeling is common when a decision has already been made before a plenary vote.
“I know that feeling of getting up to get an orange juice or a milk or a soda because you know there’s a long debate coming up on the floor because they’re not going to change the outcome because either their caucus positions or we get tired of it are listening to each other,” McLaurin said before the Senate voted to ban gender-affirming surgery and hormone replacement therapy for transgender youth.
“But I think today it’s a particularly outstanding feeling to be on the ground with empty seats because that result is already baked,” he said. “And that’s because it’s a metaphor for silence, the silence that trans kids hear when they say, ‘No, this problem isn’t going away.'”
Following recent requests from Democrats to vote against Senate Bill 140, the Senate voted 31 to 21 to allow the House to replace the bill, which now goes to Governor Brian Kemp for final approval.
The bill prohibits sex reassignment surgery or other surgical procedures and hormone replacement therapy performed on people under the age of 18 to alter primary or secondary sex characteristics.
The replacement version, passed in a House vote last week by a 95-75 vote, removed the Senate’s original language, which would have exempted physicians who break the law from civil or criminal liability if their actions caused damage, injury, or Losses occur to a person.
Opponents of the bill have raised concerns about the potential mental health impact of transgender children, citing studies that suggest transgender youth have a higher suicide rate than any child demographic.
“Cases are increasing because we recognize them, we hear them, we talk to them, and they know we see them,” said Democratic Rep. Shelly Hutchison, a psychiatrist, March 16. “They know they can get help from us. And they—slowly but surely—comfort themselves with coming to us when they think of harming themselves. This is a win for the Mental Health Committee.”
But Republican lawmakers and supporters of the bill say the decision to undergo gender-affirming procedures and medications should be reserved for adults who they feel are better suited to making such life-changing decisions.
“As lawmakers, we have a duty to protect the state’s vulnerable population,” said Rep. Josh Bonner, house sponsor of the bill. “Senate Bill 140 is doing just that, establishing guard rails to ensure children struggling with identity issues don’t make decisions that would alter their bodies forever.”
Lawsuits are pending in court in states that have enacted similar laws.
A judge in a lawsuit against Alabama has temporarily blocked the enactment of his law pending trial; He tentatively opined that Alabama law was likely unconstitutional, stating, “Parents have a fundamental right to direct the medical care of their children, subject to accepted medical standards, and discrimination based on gender mismatch is tantamount to sex discrimination.”
Representatives from Georgia Equality — an LGBTQ equality advocacy group — went to Kemp’s office after the Senate vote to urge him to veto SB 140.
“Parents who work with their medical teams and adhere to standards of care should be able to make decisions about their child’s health care,” said Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality. “…By targeting medical professionals to do their jobs, SB 140 threatens an already serious shortage of medical staff.”