Maryland House passes dozens of bills, including Transgender Health Equity Act, in extended weekend session – Baltimore Sun

Facing looming deadlines and with a slew of legislation up in the air, Maryland delegates gathered Saturday in Annapolis for a weekend bill-passing session.

The 141-member chamber met for several hours to cram stacks of bills ahead of Monday’s “change of day.” This is the last day that bills can pass either the House or the Senate and be heard in the opposite chamber without going through additional procedural steps. The General Assembly session is due to end in just over three weeks.

Both chambers began speeding up their schedules earlier in the week, sitting for hours each morning, breaking for committee hearings and votes in the afternoon, then returning to the floors for second-floor sessions that sometimes stretched into the evening.

The House plowed through a busy calendar Saturday, passing a series of local bills and state policies that ran the gamut from alcohol regulation to energy and the environment.

Lawmakers erupted in applause after the passage of the controversial Transgender Health Care Fairness Act, which has sparked controversy among House Republicans, by a vote of 93-37.

House Bill 283 would require Maryland Medicaid to cover gender-affirming care and procedures for transgender patients. In addition, the Maryland Department of Health would be required to publish an annual report listing gender-affirming care providers, including their names, locations and the services they provide.

The bill will take effect on January 1.

Republican delegates testifying against the bill became graphic during the debate. Del. Harford County’s Lauren Arican rose to tell her fellow lawmakers the details of penile reattachment surgery for people who choose to “de-transition.”

House Vice Speaker of Health and Government Operations Bonnie Cullison, one of the bill’s sponsors, responded by saying that only 0.4 percent of transgender people who transition regret the act “compared to 30 percent of most other surgeries’ – including routine procedures such as knee surgery. She did not name a source for the information, but the Associated Press recently cited a 2021 review of 27 studies involving nearly 8,000 teens and adults who had transgender surgeries, mostly in Europe, the United States and Canada. An average of 1% was found to express regret.

Del.  Linda Foley, Democrat of Montgomery County, listens to Saturday's debate on the Transgender Health Care Equity Act in the House of Delegates in Annapolis.

According to the bill’s fiscal memo, 98 people received gender-affirming care through Medicaid in 2022. The state health department estimated that the number of patients seeking gender-affirming care through Medicaid would increase by about 25 people each year if the bill be accepted.

“We don’t really decide much here. We don’t decide whether or not people should have these procedures — that’s something that will be decided between the patient and the medical professional,” said House Majority Leader Mark Corman, D-Montgomery County. “You may not like these medical procedures for your own personal reasons – I may have a problem with open heart surgery – but these are medical procedures.”

Del. Mark Fisher, a Calvert County Republican, compared the procedures the bill would cover to female genital mutilation, which he told fellow lawmakers is recognized as a human rights violation by the United Nations. Fisher said he believes “House Bill 283 seeks to engage in … mutilation of children.”

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“We’re here now, creating a brave new world. Wouldn’t he be proud of Aldous Huxley?” asked Fisher. “Dystopia, experimenting on children.”

Montgomery County Democratic Delegate Gabriel Acevero, who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community, told Republicans he hopes their concern for children “extends when we talk about billing children as adults or lying to children to coerce a confession .”

Del. Anne Kaiser, who co-sponsored the bill with her Montgomery County counterpart, Cullison, told delegates who opposed the bill that they needed to talk to transgender activists about their experiences transitioning.

Kaiser, who is lesbian, said her passion for the bill has to do with the lack of direct representation from the transgender community among Maryland lawmakers.

“People have asked me why I feel so passionately about this: I’m not trans, I don’t have gender dysphoria. Well, we don’t have representation in this house from anybody in the trans community, so me and my 59 co-sponsors, we’re your voice — we’re your representation,” Kaiser said. “What’s being said nationally about trans people are the same lies that were being told about gays and lesbians 20 years ago, and that’s part of the reason I feel the passion and connection with our trans brothers and sisters – our neighbors, our community , our constituents in all our areas.”

The House ended up spending a total of three hours taking up bills on Saturday. The Senate worked through a long session Friday night, passing bills that tackle everything from more quickly raising the state’s minimum wage to $15 to increasing targets for the amount of wind power generated in the future off Maryland’s coast.

The chambers will reconvene on Monday to pass other bills before a midnight deadline for passage.

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