Louisiana Governor Defeats the ‘Stop Harming Our Kids’ Act in Senate Committee
A Louisiana bill (HB 648) to protect minors from puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and gender transition procedures died in a Senate committee Wednesday after the Republican committee chairman voted with Democrats to sideline the bill in committee. On May 3, the bill passed the House on a bipartisan basis by nearly a 3-to-1 margin (71-24), but Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards (D) heavily lobbied against the bill before the fatal committee vote.
In a statement provided to The Washington Stand, Louisiana Family Forum president Gene Mills was “extremely disappointed” by the Senate committee’s vote, which, he said, “ignored compelling testimony, valid medical evidence, and tragic personal stories of regret.” It “heard testimony from numerous experts … regarding the long-term damage done to children,” “heart-wrenching stories of adults who deeply regret their ‘transition,’” and “parents who are heartbroken because counselors and school personnel encouraged their children to ‘identify’ as something they can never be.”
Among the medical experts who testified in support of HB 648 was Dr. Jennifer Bauwens, a former clinical psychologist and now the director of Family Research Council’s Center for Family Studies, who argued that government should provide “extra precautions” for medical procedures on children. Children “do not have the developmental capacity to understand life-long decisions,” she stated in her testimony, arguing from “natural observation,” the historical development of ethical standards, and neurological science.
“Sadly enough, some in my profession have set aside this basic understanding of child neurological, emotional, and cognitive development,” said Bauwens. “Instead, they have embraced what has been referred to as ‘gender-affirming care,’ which permanently alters the human psyche and physiology through puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and surgical procedures to remove healthy body parts.”
“Gender-affirming care is the most invasive and unnecessary physiological intervention connected to a psychological issue. Gender-affirming care is also in direct opposition to the basic practices of good mental health treatment,” Bauwens insisted.
The deciding vote in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee’s 5-4 decision to involuntarily withhold HB 648 was the chairman, state Senator Fred Mills (R), a pharmacist who has received numerous donations from major pharmaceutical manufacturers and formerly appeared on television dressed in women’s clothing. “Fred is a pharmacist. Pharmaceuticals are mentioned in the bill. … Some have asserted that’s a conflict of interest,” Gene Mills told TWS.
Of his decision to vote against HB 648, Fred Mills said, “I always, in my heart of hearts, have believed that a decision should be made by a patient and a physician.” But Gene Mills found that comment surprising, noting that Senator Mills was “pretty consistent on pro-life issues. And he created Louisiana’s medical marijuana scheme, which dictates how doctors visit with their patients.”
Pro-LGBT Louisiana news outlet The Advocate reported, based on multiple unnamed sources, that “Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards whipped members of the Health and Welfare Committee to vote against the bill in the hours before the hearing.” Gene Mills stated that “Governor John Bel Edwards is complicit in HB 648’s failure,” and that the Senate committee members who voted it down did so “likely due to pressure from Governor John Bel Edwards.” FRC President Tony Perkins, a former member of the Louisiana legislature, told TWS such pressure “would be consistent with what he’s done before with undermining bills like this, which are incompatible with Democratic dogma and platform.”
Perkins explained that “Louisiana has a very strong executive” due to his power over the state’s financial structure, which makes the governor’s influence a powerful weapon in legislative debates. “Regardless, Republicans should not be doing his dirty work.”
HB 648 would prohibit a health care professional from prescribing or administering “any drug to suppress or delay normal puberty” or any “testosterone, estrogen, or progesterone, in amounts greater than would normally be produced endogenously in a healthy individual of the same age and sex” (with a six-month extension for those currently taking these hormones), as well as from performing “any sterilizing surgery,” or “the removal of healthy or non-diseased body part,” among other prohibited surgeries.
HB 648’s prohibition would be enforced by revoking a professional license, creating civil liability, and authorizing the attorney general to enforce compliance.
HB 648 also defined “sex” biologically to mean “the biological indication of male and female, as evidenced by sex chromosomes, naturally occurring sex hormones, gonads, and nonambiguous internal and external genitalia present at birth.”
“This bill is about protecting innocent children. No one in Louisiana has the right to harm a child,” said Rep. Gabe Firment (R), the bill sponsor.
“The legitimate purpose of government is to follow constitutional imperatives — chief among those is protecting children from abuse,” argued Gene Mills. “How many more children will be irreparably harmed before we recognize the harm that sexual politics causes and stop child abuse?”
Gene Mills told TWS there is a slim chance the bill could make a rebound in this legislative session. “They killed it, but it’s still on life support. It can be resurrected,” he said. He referenced a rule by which a majority of the Senate (20 senators) can force the committee to discharge the bill. “That doesn’t happen very often,” he admitted, but said constituents currently “are lighting up the phones” in Baton Rouge, pressuring their senators to take action. Republicans hold a 27-12 majority in the Louisiana Senate.
“The Louisiana Senate can rectify this wrong by simply bringing the bill directly to a floor vote,” Gene Mills stated. In a letter obtained by The Washington Stand, Perkins called upon Louisiana Senate President Page Cortez to “bring HB 648 to the floor for a fair vote that will enable our state to protect children from experimental drugs and surgeries being advanced by the profiteers of the gender-transition movement.”
If the Senate did force the Health and Welfare Committee to discharge the bill in order to pass it, it would face a likely veto from Governor Edwards. To override the veto, HB 648 would need the support of a two-thirds supermajority in both chambers (70 votes in the House, and 26 votes in the Senate). With Senator Wells on record against the bill, it could not afford to lose a single other Republican senator, unless it finds support among Senate Democrats as it did in the House.
Earlier this year, the Kentucky legislature, controlled by Republicans, passed similar protections for minors from gender transition procedures over the veto of Democratic Governor Andy Beshear (only a majority was required). On May 16, North Carolina Republicans overrode Democratic Governor Roy Cooper’s veto of a bill protecting unborn babies after 12 weeks, which required a two-thirds majority in both houses.
However, without a major effort to resuscitate HB 648, Louisiana will stand out among southern states for the lack of protections for minors from gender transition procedures. Neighboring Arkansas was the first to pass such protections in 2021, followed in 2022 by Alabama and Arizona. So far in 2023, 15 more states have enacted protections: Georgia, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, and West Virginia. Legislatures in Missouri and Texas have also passed protections, which now await likely governor approval. The closest states to Louisiana where legislatures have not passed such a law are Kansas and Illinois to the north (over a six-hour drive), New Mexico to the west (a nine-hour drive), and South Carolina to the east (an eight-hour drive).
“It makes us an outlier,” said Perkins. Although some laws in neighboring states to protect children from gender transition procedures are currently blocked by legal battles, once those resolve Louisiana could become a tourist destination for minor gender transitions.
“This is inconsistent with who Louisiana is and where the voters are in the state,” Perkins insisted. However, he added, “this will be an election issue. So a lot of senators want to be able to vote for it.” This year, Louisiana voters will vote on the state House, every state Senate seat, and the Governor’s mansion, among other races. Governor Edwards and Sen. Mills are term-limited and not up for re-election. “This is something we should be able to reverse,” said Perkins.
For more, see Gene Mills’s “Washington Watch” interview from Thursday:
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.