Feb 23, 2024 - News

Florida House advances trans driver's license bill

Illustration of a red circle, with the state of Florida forming a bar across it, with the transgender pride flag underneath.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

As transgender Floridians grapple with the fallout of a new driver's license policy, a bill with even farther-reaching implications is gaining momentum in the state House.

What's happening: Lawmakers in the House Infrastructure Strategies Committee approved House Bill 1639 on Thursday after more than two hours of public comment, mostly from speakers, many of them trans, who opposed the bill.

Why it matters: The legislation is another in a long line of GOP-led policies restricting health care, public expression and more for trans Floridians and the broader LGBTQ+ community, advocates and Democratic lawmakers say.

What they're saying: "The only clarity this bill provides is its lack of compassion for transgender Floridians like me and its intent to escalate state discrimination," Quinn Diaz, a public policy associate for Equality Florida, told lawmakers Thursday.

Details: HB 1639 would codify in law a recent change in state policy requiring trans people to display their sex assigned at birth, not gender, on their driver's licenses.

  • It would require health insurance companies that cover transition-related medical care to also cover care for those who detransition — a choice that several speakers noted, and studies show, is rare.
  • The legislation also mandates that health insurers cover "mental health or therapeutic services to treat a person's perception that his or her sex … is inconsistent with such person's sex at birth by affirming the insured's sex."

Zoom in: State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, pressed bill co-sponsor state Rep. Doug Bankson, R-Apopka, on that language, saying it sounds like conversion therapy, a practice that major medical associations have disavowed as harmful and unscientific.

  • Bankson denied that the bill would cover the practice but did not provide any examples of other treatments that would fit that definition.

Zoom out: Among other issues raised by the bill's critics was that the driver's license provision would end legal recognition of trans people and could violate the federal Real ID Act, which allows federal agencies like TSA to accept state driver's licenses.

The other side: Bankson told committee members the bill complies with federal law. He also denied the bill targets trans people.

  • "It doesn't mean we're standing here and saying that the people in this room don't have the right to seek their wholeness," he said. "This bill is about making sure that everyone has the right to seek that wholeness."

Reality check: The bill has no Senate companion, and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo suggested last week that her chamber is moving away from bills legislating hot-button social issues.

  • Without Senate approval, the bill can't become law.
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