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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said Gov. Spencer Cox shouldn't veto the Utah Legislature's highly controversial bill banning transgender girls from competing in high school sports because he expects the ban to be overturned anyway.
If it is overturned and if the governor allows the bill to become law, then the commission lawmakers tried to negotiate with LGBTQ advocates and other stakeholders would be created, Adams said.
"I actually believe the commission will survive — if the governor doesn't veto it," Adams said. "What I want is the commission."
The Senate president made the comments Tuesday during a panel discussion hosted by the University of Utah's Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute in partnership with the Deseret News and Utah Policy at the Thomas S. Monson Center in Salt Lake City. The Deseret News' executive editor, Doug Wilks, moderated the conversation.
Wilks asked if passing the drastically altered bill in the late hours of the session was "bad government." Adams said he thought it was "good government."
"Let me explain why," Adams said.
Adams said "good ideas" get refined and improved when they go through the legislative process. Adams said HB11 is a bill that lawmakers worked on for several years, and about 10 other states including Idaho and Wyoming have passed bans.
"So the ban is pretty much being passed around the U.S.," Adams said, but he added, "I personally don't believe a ban is going to be upheld. So I basically looked at Rep. (Kera) Birkeland's bill, and we got some really significant, good input from attorneys around the nation ... and they recommended this commission."
Adams said the commission will use "metrics, the data" to determine whether a transgender athlete would "fit within that norm" of a "normal women's sports participant" without an "unfair competitive advantage."
"It was data driven, not politically driven," Adams said, adding he was involved in the conversations around the commission.
"There was some buy-in by the community," Adams said, but there continued to be "outcry" from those questioning why the commission should be created if a ban would be upheld at the national level.
"Well, quite honestly, I don't believe the ban will be upheld," Adams said. "And so when you have a good idea and you have to find a way to get a bill to pass, and I believe in the commission, this bill simply says if a ban is not upheld by a court — and I personally don't believe it will be upheld — what will we have in Utah? We'll have a commission."
Adams said he, personally, liked the idea of creating the commission but crafting the bill to say that if ban were ever upheld, "we would move to a ban. But to do nothing, what do we have?"
If the bill hadn't passed the last night of the session, "we wouldn't have any resolve to it, the commission wouldn't be in place, we'd be in the same spot ... as (if) we'd done nothing."
An emotional Gov. Spencer Cox — who has been an outspoken ally of the LGBTQ community — pledged he would veto HB11 immediately after it cleared the Senate on a 16-13 vote. Soon after, the House passed it on a 46-29 vote.
The governor said he was "stunned" by the last-minute changes to the bill that did not adopt any of the efforts to compromise with Equality Utah. "Some of the worst decisions get made at the last minute," he said.
The governor also had a tearful message for Utah's LGBTQ youth.
"It's going to be OK. We're going to work through this. We're going to find a good path, and there are a lot of people that really love and care about them," he said, urging those around the nation watching Utah to "have some patience with us."
During Tuesday's panel discussion, House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said the "process was bad," to see that version of the bill sprung on lawmakers in the final hours of the session. He said lawmakers should have created the commission first and taken input from stakeholders with expertise on medical, athletic and transgender issues.
"What we got instead was a culture war bill that was extraordinarily divisive and extraordinarily hurtful to a vulnerable — a very vulnerable — and marginalized population," King said.
Senate Minority Caucus Manager Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, said the bill came "out of the blue" and "blindsided" Democratic lawmakers. His request for more time to look at the bill didn't get support from the Senate, which then spent over an hour debating the bill at the expense of dozens of other bills that were waiting to be considered.
"And I come away saying, 'Why did we even deal with this issue?' There were a lot of good bills that weren't dealt with ... because of this debate," Davis said.
Davis noted the bill affects only four transgender students in the state of Utah. Utahns are still learning how to "understand sexual orientation differently than we have in our past generations," he said, and as that conversation continues the state should prioritize an "inclusive growing environment" for children, and especially help prevent suicide.
"Banning is not the answer. To ban anything, really, is discrimination in its worst form when you ban certain people from being able to engage in certain activities," Davis said. "It's understanding the human life, what humanity is really truly about. And I think we missed that vote. And we missed being able to deal with a lot of other issues that probably would have helped the state more."
House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, defended the bill, saying Birkeland worked hard over the past year to find a way to "actually protect women's sports" and ensure girls are able to compete in a "fair" environment.
"We have seen around the country instances where they become unfair, so she was trying to protect women's sports in that regard," Wilson said.
"Well see how this progresses with the governor," Wilson added. "We saw what he said, and that is part of the process. If the governor vetoes it, we will poll our members to see if there's interest in having a veto override session."
It's far too early to predict whether that veto override session will actually happen, Wilson added.
But regardless of what happens, Wilson said it's an issue the Utah Legislature isn't going to drop.
"We'll keep working on that one way or another."