Alaska Legislature

Alaska House spends 12 hours debating transgender athletes as session deadline looms

JUNEAU — The Alaska House held a 12-hour debate Saturday on a ban on transgender girls’ participation in girls’ sports. A hearing that began at 10:30 a.m. went past 10:30 p.m., concluding without a final vote on the bill.

With days remaining until the end of the legislative session, Republican members of the House majority said it was a priority for them to pass the bill, even though Senate majority leaders have said they would not take it up. The session must end on Wednesday, leaving lawmakers dwindling hours to address what they have said are their key priorities, including a looming shortage in the natural gas that provides the energy for a majority of Alaskans, and a court decision that upended public education programs serving nearly 23,000 students.

“I think that women’s rights and girls’ rights are a big priority,” said Rep. Jamie Allard, an Eagle River Republican who sponsored the bill.

The House could take up their final vote on the bill during a floor session on Sunday.

Alaska is one of 25 states that already have some limitations on the participation of transgender athletes in school sports, a key issue for some voters that has driven a wave of legislation in Republican-controlled states and jurisdictions.

The Alaska Legislature’s regular session must end by midnight on Wednesday, May 15.

The Alaska board of education adopted regulations last year to ban transgender girls from participation in high school girls’ sports. The bill would enshrine the ban in state law and expand it to all girls’ and women’s sports teams beginning in kindergarten through the university level. Lawmakers supporting the bill have pushed for its passage despite the fact that there are no recorded problems arising from the participation of transgender athletes in Alaska sports teams.


The House already spent four hours debating two amendments to the bill on Thursday, before postponing further consideration to Saturday. On Saturday, lawmakers voted on dozens of additional amendments in a hearing that at times left lawmakers in tears or shouting at each other.

Minority members drafted nearly 100 amendments to filibuster the bill. During floor debates, they spoke at length about what they said would be the impacts of the bill. They said it would marginalize transgender youth and expose the state to lawsuits.

Some of the minority-drafted amendments would have ensured transgender girls can join girls’ chess teams; created a statewide women’s sports academy; added an investigator to the department of education to examine the sex of school athletes; recognized a transgender day of visibility in Alaska schools; given students whose sex was investigated under the bill the right to legal counsel; and stepped up penalties on hate crimes targeting people based on their gender or sexual identity.

All minority amendments were voted down, most in 19-21 votes. The 16-member minority was joined in supporting the amendments by three rural lawmakers who are members of the majority. The 20 Republicans in the House majority were joined by Rep. David Eastman, a Wasilla Republican who belongs to neither caucus, in opposing the amendments. Those 21 lawmakers are also expected to vote in favor of the passage of the bill if it comes to a final vote.

After five hours of debate on Saturday, Rep. Dan Ortiz, a Ketchikan independent and minority member, made a motion to postpone the bill indefinitely, meaning lawmakers would not have been able to bring it up again during the session. The motion failed in a 19-21 vote along the same lines. Another motion to postpone the bill from Rep. CJ McCormick, a Bethel Democrat who belongs to the House majority, also failed in a similar vote a short while later.

“This is supposed to be the education and energy session. We’re not getting that done,” said Donna Mears, an Anchorage Democrat.

As the floor session dragged on, Rep. Neal Foster, a Nome Democrat who co-chairs the Finance Committee, canceled a hearing in which lawmakers were expected to consider a key piece of education legislation to address correspondence schools, among numerous other bills.

House Republicans appeared committed to hearing every amendment in order to be able to vote on the bill. Close to 11 p.m., the House heard amendment number 88 — the final one of the day. Many were tabled without debate, while others were voted down after lengthy commentary from lawmakers.

“We are going to spend all day and night on this bill,” said House Minority Leader Calvin Schrage, an Anchorage independent. “We have more important work to do than this.”

House minority members framed the lengthy debate as the result of House members’ insistence on having a contentious debate that waded deep into a national culture war in the final days of a legislative session that had so far not yielded significant policy victories.

During a break in proceedings, Rep. Jennie Armstrong, an Anchorage Democrat, shouted at majority members, “You brought this upon us!”

Allard, the bill sponsor, responded: “You’re discriminating against women!”

As minority members sought to obstruct the bill, Tilton at one point paused proceedings to tell them, “We can do this all day long.”

“Happily,” Armstrong replied.

Rep. Sarah Vance, a Homer Republican who planned to vote for the bill, said that she thought the debate was important — even if it meant lawmakers would have to go into a special session to address their stated priorities of education and energy.

“When the Legislature decides to take something on and do it, I believe that we can accomplish it,” said Vance.

“I believe that we have enough time to address all of the important measures, and when it comes to energy and education, we may need to do a special session,” said Vance. “So I don’t feel that we are losing anything right now.”

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Iris Samuels

Iris Samuels is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News focusing on state politics. She previously covered Montana for The AP and Report for America and wrote for the Kodiak Daily Mirror. Contact her at