A bill that would give Arkansas' attorney general the authority to lodge a cause of action against schools that allow transgender girls and women to participate on female sports teams was advanced by the House Education Committee on Tuesday.
Senate Bill 450 by Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, has largely the same effect as Act 461, a measure from the same sponsor that Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed into law last month. Act 461 gives student athletes "deprived of athletic opportunity" by a school not maintaining separate teams for female students a private cause of action.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor in 2022, announced her support for SB450 at a news conference two days before the state Republican Women's Legislative Caucus announced the other bill that became Act 461 as part of their legislative package.
Proponents of both pieces of legislation have touted them as ensuring fairness in women's sports. Sponsors of the bills have not pointed to an instance of or a complaint about transgender participation in sports in Arkansas.
Rep. DeAnn Vaught, R-Horatio, the House sponsor of SB450, said the bill gives the attorney general the ability to investigate when a school doesn't follow the rules of the Arkansas Activities Association, which regulates kindergarten-12 sports and requires that students participate on the sports teams that aligns with the sex listed on their birth certificates. The Arkansas Activities Association accepts amended birth certificates.
Rep. Megan Godfrey, D-Springdale, called SB450 a "broad, sweeping, discriminatory ban" and said she believed a mechanism could be implemented to adjudicate instances of unfairness instead. She asked Bradford Nye, legislative director for the attorney general's office, if Rutledge was aware of the NCAA's recent statement that it would only hold events in locations that are inclusive of transgender athletes.
NCAA rules allow transgender women to compete in women's sports after one year of hormone treatment.
Nye said the office was cognizant of the NCAA's concerns but said Arkansans' values are "more important than what an out-of-state entity might try to push down on us."
Ryan Foster with the Ozarks Coalition, an anti-extremism organization, spoke against the bill, saying it was "unchristian, uncivilized and unconstitutional" to give the state the power to investigate children.
The committee sent SB450 to the House on a divided voice vote.