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Lawmakers nix anti-trans "Chloe's Law" amid warnings of an insurance crisis

Five green light bubbles show that Senate File 144 "Chloe's law: Children gender change prohibition" was filed, passed in committee, and passed 1st, 2nd and 3rd reading in its house of origin. A red light bubble shows that it was stopped in a committee after hitting the other house. Blank bubbles for "1st, 2nd and 3rd readings" and "signed by governor" show the path to passage the bill will never achieve.
Jeff Victor
Wyoming Public Media/Laramie Reporter
Senate File 144 passed out of the Senate but died in the House Appropriations Committee. The bill could be reassigned to another committee, but that's unlikely; tomorrow is the deadline for bills to be advanced out of committees in the second house.

Wyoming lawmakers have considered two bills this session aimed at outlawing gender-affirming care for people under 18. One of those bills is still in play, but "Chloe's Law" died in a committee Wed., Feb. 22, ending its path through the legislature.

The House Appropriations Committee voted 5-2 to recommend do-not-pass. That sends the bill back to the general file where it could be tried again during this session, although that is unlikely at this point.

"Chloe's Law" would have made it illegal for doctors to prescribe hormone blockers or offer gender-affirming surgery to anyone under the age of 18. According to the testimony of medical professionals and officials and even some lawmakers, those surgeries don’t take place in Wyoming. But hormone blockers are used to delay the onset of puberty, giving kids more time to figure out if their gender identity is persistent.

The bill would have also prohibited insurance companies from covering any of this care. Wyoming Insurance Commissioner Jeff Rude told the committee this would put marketplace insurers, like Blue Cross Blue Shield, in violation of federal law — more specifically the Affordable Care Act. It prohibits sex-based discrimination, and therefore discrimination based on gender identity.

He said the solution for those companies, if the bill became law, might be avoiding Wyoming altogether.

"If those two insurers pull out of the market or are forced to pull out of the market, we have 37,500 people who currently have a highly subsidized plan, many of them pay less than $100 a month for the best healthcare they'll ever get in their life — most of them will not find new healthcare," Rude said.

Raymond Redd of Blue Cross Blue Shield Wyoming reiterated this point, saying the bill would put his company at odds with the Affordable Care Act.

"If this passes, health insurers receiving federal funds will find themselves caught between federal and state laws," he said.

The House Appropriations Committee heard more than two hours of testimony in total. There were testifiers both for and against the bill, many of them citing research — as Rep. Bob Nicholas (R-Cheyenne) noted.

"All of us on the committee have innumerous numbers of emails and scientific studies going one way or the other on this issue," he said.

Every major medical association in the country, and the best available research, supports gender-affirming care as the standard of care for transgender youth.

But Rep. Sarah Penn (R-Lander) said children cannot be trusted to make decisions with such long-lasting impacts before adulthood.

"We know that adolescent brains, that a human brain, is not developed until the mid-20s," Penn said. "So how can we expect a child to enter into a contract such as this — with permanent and irreversible consequences — when they don't understand, they can't understand, what it is they're consenting to?"

But there are also "permanent and irreversible consequences" of going through puberty as the wrong gender, as other testifiers stressed. Trans youth are at a higher risk for depression and suicide and that risk is worse in places where they are unable to access gender-affirming care. Further, almost all individuals who undergo gender transition report improved quality of life. While detransitioners — those who underwent gender-affirming surgery only to later regret it — make up a large part of the discourse surrounding this issue, they represent an extreme minority.

Sen. Anthony Bouchard (R-Cheyenne), who sponsored the bill, named it after one such detransitioner: Chloe Cole, a California teenager who has been traveling the country to support bills like the one in Wyoming. Cole has compared gender-affirming surgery to the medical experiments Nazis performed on their Jewish prisoners during the Holocaust.

Cole did not testify on the Wyoming bill that bears her name, but Bouchard formed a nonprofit organization with two other senators to pay for testimony from out-of-state detransitioners like Cole.

Wyoming Medical Society Director Sheila Bush said the stories of detransitioners usually involve kids who are seeking therapy being swept immediately into gender-affirming surgery. Bush said these stories, if accurate, highlight instances of clear medical malpractice — which there are already laws against.

"Unfortunately this morning we're opposed to this bill," she said. "And I say unfortunately because I think — had this conversation involved our medical community and involved physicians — the bill would look differently and it could be something that we would all be here to support together. And that would be the prohibition on surgery and procedures specifically, without the rest of what is contained in this bill."

Specifically, Bush was referring to the prohibition on hormone blockers. Retired Cheyenne pediatrician Robert Prentiss also took issue with the same provision.

"Enforcement of such laws might raise ethical issues and would ask people to rat on each other," he said. "If you want to say that state dollars can’t be used, that's one thing. But to broadly prohibit treatment is draconian to me and extremely harmful to the careers of people who have gone into healthcare for the best of reasons."

Ultimately, Rep. Nicholas brought a motion to recommend "do not pass" — arguing the bill is flatly unconstitutional.

"I think the committee knows that on its face, this bill is unconstitutional," he said. "In particular, the Wyoming Constitution is much more prescriptive in its wording in terms of free access and access to medical care and keeping the legislature out of personal health decisions."

Nicholas' motion passed with a 5-2 vote, meaning the bill will not advance out of this committee.

All bills have to pass out of committee in the second house by Friday, Feb. 24. When and if Chloe's Law misses that deadline, it will have officially died.

Senate File 111 — a separate bill aiming to define gender-affirming care as felony child abuse — is still in play. SF111 has passed in the Senate and been received in the House, but it has yet to be assigned to a committee.

Jeff is a part-time reporter for Wyoming Public Media, as well as the owner and editor of the Laramie Reporter, a free online news source providing in-depth and investigative coverage of local events and trends.
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