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House bill to end transgender right in Iowa law dead

The Iowa State Capitol building. (Photo: Caroline Cummings).
The Iowa State Capitol building. (Photo: Caroline Cummings).
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A bill proposed by a group of Republican lawmakers on Wednesday that would have amended the Iowa Civil Rights Act by removing protections against discrimination for transgender people is dead, a powerful committee chairman said.

Nine Republican House members sponsoring the bill introduced it Wednesday morning but by evening Republican Rep. Steven Holt, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee to which the bill was assigned, said he wouldn’t allow it to move forward to a subcommittee hearing.

“It’s dead,” Holt said. “It just would have had a lot of unintended consequences.”

Iowa law currently prohibits discrimination based on gender identity, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, ancestry and disability. Gender identity was added by lawmakers in 2007 when Democrats regained control of the Iowa Legislature and held the governor’s office with the election of Gov. Chet Culver. The GOP took control of the legislature in 2017.

Civil and gay rights advocates immediately criticized the measure.

“Allowing transgender Iowans to be fired from their jobs or denied housing simply because they are transgender is a new low, and they should be ashamed of themselves,” said Courtney Reyes, director of One Iowa Action, an LGBTQ advocacy group.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa said the bill attempts to roll back the clock.

“Discriminating against transgender people — or any Iowans — will not make them, or us, go away or stop being who they are. We’ll continue to remind legislators of the obvious: Transgender people already do exist; they aren’t going anywhere; and they have large communities of Iowans fighting for equality and dignity right alongside them,” said Mark Stringer, the group’s executive director.

Bill sponsor Republican Rep. Dean Fisher, a central Iowa farmer, said he proposed the measure to address “a whole host of issues” such as transgender women seeking to be incarcerated in women’s prisons.

It wasn’t immediately clear if the Iowa Department of Corrections has dealt with such requests. Spokesman Cord Overton said he would research the issue and attempt to provide an answer.

Fisher also cited concerns about transgender women participating in women’s sports, an issue not widely reported as a problem in Iowa.

“I think we’ve just got to nip this in the bud,” Fisher said.

He also raised concerns about an Iowa Supreme Court ruling last year that said the state couldn’t prevent Medicaid from paying for sex reassignment surgeries because it violated the Iowa Civil Rights Act. Republican lawmakers later amended the act specifically to say it doesn’t require government entities to pay for sex reassignment surgery. A lawsuit challenging that law on constitutional equal protection grounds was initially dismissed by a judge but continues to be litigated.

Holt said he respects Fisher’s viewpoint but the bill wouldn’t get a hearing needed to advance in the House.

Fisher did not immediately return a call.

The only group registered in favor of the bill is the The Family Leader, an evangelical Christian group that opposes gay marriage and abortion. Lobbyists for several other groups including the state’s largest public employee union oppose the bill.

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The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ civil rights advocacy group, said at least 20 states prohibit employment, housing and public accommodation discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

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