Utah lawmakers override Gov. Cox’s veto of transgender sports bill

Law bans transgender students from participating in middle school and high school sports.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R)

The Utah Legislature overrode a veto by Gov. Spencer Cox on Friday on a bill that bans transgender students from participating in middle school and high school sports.

The Legislature also approved a bill that sets aside $500,000 to pay for any legal costs that arise because of the legislation.

Cox called lawmakers back into a special session to consider the financial and legal aspects of House Bill 11, which was passed in the final hours of the 2022 legislative session.

After overriding the veto, the chambers began debate on House Bill 3001, which would create a $500,000 indemnity fund. The money would be a one-time allocation from the General Fund, according to the bill's fiscal note.

Democrats remained opposed to the bill.

“Utah Democrats stand with transgender Utahns against these hateful attacks," Utah Democratic Party Chair Diane Lewis said in an statement on the organization's website. "Let’s be honest: the Republican supermajority wasted thousands of taxpayer dollars by calling themselves into an emergency special session so they could override the Governor’s veto for one reason: to protect themselves against political attacks from extremists in their own party."

Rep. Kera Birkeland R-Morgan, who sponsored the bill in the House, said it was about being fair to female athletes.

"We have seen the necessity of such legislation play out recently, and I am proud to stand up and fight for girls to have the opportunity to compete on an even playing field," Birkeland said. "Good policy is made by considering a variety of viewpoints and working to find the right solution."

Sen. Curtis Bramble, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, said states who do not pass similar legislation are "leaving women totally unprotected."

"Though there are some who say transgender participation isn’t an issue in our state, we are seeing the negative repercussions in our country due to unfair advantage," Bramble, R-Provo, said in a statement. "We have to consider the girls who are concerned about privacy and lost opportunities to compete in a fair athletic environment."

Cox said in a statement issued Friday he was grateful lawmakers recognized the flaw in the bill.

"I called a Special Session today to fix at least one flaw in the bill, and we’re heartened that the Legislature agreed to indemnify school districts and the Utah High School Athletics Association from the enormous financial burden that inevitable litigation will have on them," Cox said. "I remain hopeful that we will continue to work toward a more inclusive, fair and compassionate policy during the interim.”

The law goes into effect on July 1.