Brad Little file

Brad Little

BOISE — After Gov. Brad Little on Monday quietly and without comment signed the nation’s most far-reaching anti-transgender legislation into law, reactions have been pouring in from around Idaho and across the country, but Little himself has remained mum.

The two bills were HB 509, which directly defies a federal court order by forbidding transgender Idahoans from changing the gender marker on their birth certificates to match their gender identity; and HB 500a, which forbids transgender girls or women from playing on female school sports teams. Both bills were found constitutionally flawed in opinions issued by the Idaho Attorney General’s Office before they passed; the office estimated that HB 509 alone, if passed, would cost the state more than $1 million in attorney fees for the other side if it tried to defend the bill in court.

Backers contended that the state had an interest in maintaining unchanged records that show sex at birth, despite the courts finding otherwise; and that girls playing school sports would face unfair competition if people born male who later transition to female are allowed to compete against them.

The ACLU of Idaho condemned the governor’s “decision to sign discriminatory, unconstitutional, and deeply hurtful anti-transgender bills into law,” and said it “will see the governor in court.”

The Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence called those two bills, plus HB 440a, “hateful and discriminatory.” HB 440a, which Little also signed on Monday without comment, amends the Idaho Human Rights Act to forbid any preferences for women or minorities in state hiring, education or contracting, except in cases where such a ban would cost the state federal funds.

“We are deeply disappointed that Governor Little would ignore the voices of so many Idahoans, from every corner of this state, from all backgrounds, who were courageous in sharing their opposition to these bills and the additional hardships these bills will create for them,” said Kelly Miller, executive director of the Idaho Coalition. “While these bills fuel the story that Idaho is hateful and intolerant, there is danger in a single story – the outpouring of people and businesses in opposition to these bills tells us that we value our collective humanity.”Opposition to the bills came from Idaho’s largest employers, human rights advocates, faith leaders and more, but the bills passed on largely party-line votes, with nearly all majority Republicans favoring them and legislative Democrats all opposed.

House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, in an end-of-session press conference, said, “These are issues that resonate with the majority party.”

Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, said, “We are living in an unprecedented global health crisis, with confirmed cases of COVID-19 increasing on a daily basis in Idaho, across the United States and around the world, but Governor Brad Little and the Idaho legislature have decided to prioritize the demonization of transgender people. This is unacceptable, and a gross misuse of taxpayer funds and trust.”

Meanwhile, Blaine Conzatti, director of advocacy for the Family Policy Alliance of Idaho, called both HB 500 and HB 509 “groundbreaking in public policy, not only for Idaho, but for the nation,” saying, “Governor Little has proven himself to be a friend to Idaho families.”

Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot, the lead sponsor of HB 509, compared the birth certificate bill to the 100th anniversary of U.S. women receiving the right to vote. “Today marks another historic day for women as Governor Little has signed HB 509,” Young wrote in a newsletter Tuesday, “ensuring that hard-won protections for women in the law may continue to be safeguarded. … Of course, there will be court challenges. However, the reality of biological sex and the value of accurately recording it is undeniable.”

The Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona advocacy group that’s been pushing for the transgender girls sports bill in multiple states, praised the governor. “Girls deserve to compete on a level playing field,” said Kristen Waggoner, senior vice president of the U.S. Legal Division for ADF. “Allowing males to compete in girls’ sports destroys fair competition and women’s athletic opportunities. We commend Gov. Little for signing the Fairness for Women in Sports Act into law so that those opportunities will be protected in Idaho. When the law ignores biological differences, women and girls bear the brunt of the harm.”

Little didn’t respond to multiple requests Tuesday for comment on why he decided to sign the bills into law. He also had no comment on other bills he signed into law on Monday, including HB 601, a measure to add new exemptions to the Idaho Public Records Act for lawmakers and public officials.

He also issued two vetoes on Monday, of HB 384, the bill to allow Idaho to compensate those wrongfully convicted and imprisoned; and SB 1295, a tele-dentistry bill which caused a big fight during the legislative session between Idaho dentists and a national tele-dentistry firm that said the bill would drive it out of business in Idaho.

In his veto messages, Little said he agreed with the intent of the wrongful conviction bill but thought the process the measure outlined was flawed, and he’d work with sponsors on a new version next year. On the tele-dentistry bill, Little wrote, “I vetoed SB 1295 because Idaho has a strong framework for safe telehealth access” in existing law, and safeguards on the practice of tele-dentistry can be established through administrative rule.

After Little’s quiet flurry of legislative action, his website showed just one bill from this year’s legislative session awaiting action before a 6:33 p.m. deadline Tuesday: HB 340a, legislation to allow Coeur d’Alene Pastor Tim Remington to operate a youth residential drug treatment program without a state license, designating his faith-based operation a state-sanctioned “pilot program.” Remington is a current state representative, whom Little appointed to the office to replace former Rep. John Green, R-Rathdrum, after Green was convicted of defrauding the U.S. government.

Recently Little’s website posted news that he’d vetoed HB 340a, concluding that it didn’t adequately ensure vulnerable youth would be protected.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.