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A Missouri bill to ban gender-affirming care for kids expanded to include adults in prison

Rep. Ben Baker, R-Neosho, listens to testimony during a nine-hour hearing on transgender rights Jan. 24.
Annelise Hanshaw
Missouri Independent
Rep. Ben Baker, R-Neosho, listens to testimony during a nine-hour hearing on transgender rights Jan. 24.

An amendment proposed by Republican state Rep. Ben Baker of Neosho added adults into the “Missouri Child and Adolescent Protection Act," a House bill originally designed to bar minors from accessing puberty blockers, hormones and gender-affirming surgeries.

A Missouri House committee on Thursday voted to expand a proposed ban on minors receiving gender-affirming care so that the bill would apply to adults who are incarcerated.

An amendment proposed by Republican state Rep. Ben Baker of Neosho added adults into a bill originally designed to bar children from accessing puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and gender-affirming surgeries.

Baker said his motivation was to protect tax dollars.

“Once somebody comes into the correctional facility that then is taxpayer funded, that’s what we have the authority to look at when it comes to that funding,” he said.

The amendment does not specify if prisoners could pay for treatment privately.

“The entire premise, or so I thought, was to protect minors,” said Rep. Keri Ingle, D-Lee’s Summit, of the bill now renamed “Missouri Child and Adolescent Protection Act.”

Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, asked what “prisoners and their ability to get medical care” has to do with “child and adolescent protection.”

“It may not be something that’s exactly falling under that very tight title,” Baker said, “But I think that it falls into the scope of what we’re trying to address here.”

Ingle said she had legal concerns about withholding gender-affirming care from prisoners.

“It’s incredibly short sighted that we just introduced an entirely different population and didn’t have any discussion of insurance or payers and payment into this debate,” she said.

The amendment is the result of closed-door talks between committee members after a nine-hour hearing on the bill and related legislation in January.

The House General Laws Committee voted nine in favor, five opposed and Rep. Tony Lovasco, R-O’Fallon, denoting “present” to send the amended bill to the House floor. Rep. Renee Reuter broke with her party to join the Democrats in attendance, voting “no.”

Lovasco said he was “on the fence” prior to the committee’s meeting, but after hearing 45 minutes of discussion Thursday thought the committee needed to work on the bill’s language further.

“I am convinced that we do need to do something and that there is an important role for the state in this space. I’m not convinced that we need to rush into it,” he said.

Merideth challenged another change that removed a carve out that would have allowed children to receive treatment if they are otherwise “in imminent danger of death or impairment of a major bodily function.”

“That’s a fairly massive exception to get rid of, if this is supposed to be about child and adolescent protection, if they’re in imminent danger of death or losing bodily function of a part of their body,” Merideth said.

Bill sponsor Rep. Brad Hudson, R-Cape Fair, said the change was intentional.

“It could be an exception that swallows a rule,” he said. “You don’t want a situation where some folks might say that, because of the likelihood of suicide or likelihood of this or that, that they would actually subject children to these drugs or to these surgeries.”

Critics of the proposed legislation point to research showing access to treatment correlated with improved mental health for transgender children.

Merideth emphasized the lengthy hearing as he asked committee members to vote “no.”

“If we pass this out of this committee, it’s going to a floor where most of the rest of those folks did not hear that testimony,” he said.

The day after the nine-hour hearing, his child had a medical emergency, Merideth said, and he rushed home with tears in his eyes.

“I’m driving home to deal with my daughter’s emergency healthcare situation and wondering, ‘What if the government, a bunch of politicians who don’t know anything about my daughter’s health… passed a law saying I couldn’t give the care my daughter needs?’” he said.

A spate of similar bills are also being considered by the Missouri Senate.

This story was originally published on the Missouri Independent.

Annelise Hanshaw covers education for the Missouri Independent — a beat she has held on both the East and West Coast prior to joining the Missouri Independent staff. A born-and-raised Missourian, she is proud to be back in her home state.
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