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Idaho targets transgender people, birth certificate changes

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Idaho lawmakers moved forward Thursday with legislation banning transgender people from changing the sex listed on their birth certificates despite a federal court ruling declaring such a ban unconstitutional.

Ohio and Tennessee are the only other states in the country where transgender people cannot change their birth certificates, according to a law firm that has challenged the practice in court. In Idaho, this is another effort by the conservative state to target the population as Republicans in the House a day earlier advanced legislation to keep transgender women from competition.

The Republican-dominated House voted 53-16 to pass the measure that now goes to the GOP-controlled Senate. If approved, it would go to Republican Gov. Brad Little for his signature.

"Biological sex is a real scientific fact, and it never goes away," said Republican Rep. Julianne Young. "No amount of surgery, hormones or other procedures can change a person's biological sex."

She said preventing changes to the gender on birth certificates is important because schools use birth certificates to determine who can use which bathrooms and who can attend sex-specific overnight trips. She also said it's important so that the state can maintain accurate records for large studies involving population trends.

A federal judge in March 2018 ruled that Idaho's law barring transgender people from making the birth certificate change violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The judge scrapped the ban and warned against new rules.

After the ruling, about 150 people over the next six months applied to change the gender on their birth certificates, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. They ranged from 7 to 78 years old.

After Idaho lost the lawsuit it paid $75,000 in court-ordered attorney fees to the winning side. The state never appealed the decision.

Young spoke at length about the case, arguing essentially the federal court erred and the Idaho attorney general's office failed to sufficiently defend the state's interests. Republican Rep. Bryan Zollinger said the court ruling was an example of a judge creating legislation from the bench.

Democratic Rep. John Gannon said the legislation was a clear violation of the court ruling, and should it become law Idaho would lose again in court and pay more money to the winning side.

"All this bill is doing is picking on a vulnerable population," he said.

Republican Rep. Linda Hartgen said the federal court ruling was a deciding factor for her in voting against the bill.

"My job here is to protect all of the people of my district and the state of Idaho," Hartgen said. "Not just those who look like me."

A proposal that would have blocked transgender people from changing the sex listed on their birth certificates in Utah was shelved last year. The legislation would have reversed the longstanding practice in many parts of the state and had prompted warnings that it could put Utah in a negative national spotlight as Salt Lake City tries to attract a future Winter Olympics.

Lambda Legal is the law firm that represented two transgender women whose lawsuit led to the court ruling in Idaho. The firm also sued Kansas, which ended up changing its policy. The group said it is challenging the Ohio and Tennessee laws.

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