INDIANAPOLIS – Republican lawmakers in Indiana voted Tuesday to override the GOP governor’s veto of a bill banning transgender females from competing in girls school sports and join about more than a dozen other states adopting similar laws in the past two years.
State senators voted 32-15 in favor of overriding Gov. Eric Holcomb following the same action in a 67-28 vote by the House earlier in the day. Holcomb had said in his veto message that bill did not provide a consistent policy for what he called “fairness in K-12 sports” when he unexpectedly vetoed it in March.
The override votes were nearly party line and no lawmakers changed their votes from earlier this year. Four Republican senators joined all Democratic senators in voting to uphold the veto. In the House, three Republicans voted to sustain the veto, while one Democrat supported overriding it.
Opponents have argued the bill is a bigoted response to a problem that doesn’t exist. The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a lawsuit minutes following the override in hopes of blocking the law from taking effect as scheduled on July 1.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a 10-year-old girl who plays on her school’s all-girls softball team in Indianapolis. The new law would deny the fourth-grader the right to rejoin her team because she is a transgender girl, which is a violation of Title IX and the U.S. Constitution, according to the complaint.
Holcomb said in a statement following the override that his "position hasn’t changed.”
"There remains zero cases and the process, which is managed by the (Indiana High School Athletic Association), is working. I stand behind my decision to veto HB 1041,” he said.
Republican sponsors of the bill maintain it is needed to protect the integrity of female sports and opportunities for girls to gain college athletic scholarships but have pointed out no instances in the state of girls being outperformed by transgender athletes.
“(This measure) does not solve an issue. It does not bring people together. It does not benefit our state in any way,” Democratic Sen. J.D. Ford of Indianapolis said shortly before the Senate vote. “Why do you press upon the government to solve this issue, which there is no issue?”
Republican Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray said the state needs the policy and called it “a matter of simple fairness.”
“We don’t like to get to the state of Indiana sued, but it happens from time to time,” Bray said. “It’s a policy that I think we can stand behind.”
The veto override votes came during a special one-day meeting 11 weeks after this year’s regular legislative session ended. Democrats had called for lawmakers to take action, instead, on a proposal to suspend the state’s 56 cents per gallon in taxes on gasoline amid the nationwide spike in fuel prices. Republicans disregarded that request.
House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta of Fort Wayne lamented that Republicans focused on divisive cultural issues that “won’t do anything to help move the state of Indiana forward.”
“Certainly, we have some pressing issues out there that are affecting Hoosiers every day, specifically, including the high price of gasoline that we’re seeing all over the state,” GiaQuinta said. “Wish we could have potentially used this day to better help Hoosiers.”
Activists held a rally against the ban ahead of the Legislature’s votes. Dozens of attendees, including several families with transgender youth, played sidewalk games around the Statehouse lawn. They argued that Indiana's ban isn’t targeting elite athletes, but rather kids who want to play on a team with their friends.
“We're here to stand against hate and discrimination that could have a lifelong impact for my family,” said Cara Nimskey, the mother of a transgender girl from Bloomington. “My daughter dreams of playing basketball in high school. It's unfair exclusion — she'll be crushed if this goes through.”
Holcomb’s veto came a day before Republican Utah Gov. Spencer Cox vetoed a similar ban on grounds that such laws target vulnerable children who are already at high risk of suicide. Utah’s Republican lawmakers overrode the veto days later amid a wave of such laws that political observers describe as a classic “wedge issue” to motivate conservative supporters.
In his veto letter, Holcomb pointed to the IHSAA, which has a policy covering transgender students wanting to play sports that match their gender identity and has said it has had no transgender girls finalize a request to play on a female team. The law wouldn’t prevent students who identify as female or transgender males from playing on boys sports teams.
Holcomb said in his veto message the bill presumed “there is an existing problem in K-12 sports in Indiana that requires further state government intervention” but that he found no evidence to support that claim “even if I support the effort overall.”
Associated Press writer Tom Davies contributed to this report.
Casey Smith is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Smith on Twitter.