A proposal to exclude gender-affirming care from a Democratic-led runaway youth healthcare bill was a mistake and part of a wrong version of the bill that has since been updated, a bill co-sponsor said.
Senate Bill 704 outlines the right of runaway youth to consent to their own healthcare without a parent or guardian, which is not currently possible under Wisconsin law. More than 18,000 Wisconsin students experienced some form of homelessness during the 2022-23 school year, according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
The originally submitted bill included a condition that “does not apply if for the purpose of changing the minor's body to correspond to a sex that is discordant with the minor's biological sex.” Republicans made this addition in an unused draft, according to Rep. Jodi Emerson, D-Eau Claire.
Emerson submitted the bill to the Senate and Assembly Nov. 14. However, the Senate released an incorrect version on Nov. 24, she said.
Emerson told The Daily Cardinal this was a human mistake by the Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB). The LRB drafts all bills for introduction and gives them a number before they go to the Senate or Assembly.
“I was horrified that anyone would ever have the impression that I would actively be doing something against trans youth,” Emerson said.
Emerson said she believed the LRB was also shocked by this mistake, especially the possible partisan intent.
“I'll be dealing with this with a therapist,” she said.
Discussion about the bill began in April, and Emerson joined four other Democratic lawmakers to send out requests for co-sponsorship in early November.
Democrats sought bipartisan support, but disagreements prevented Republicans from signing on. Emerson believes other trans bills on the floor in recent weeks put gender-affirming care at the forefront of Republicans’ minds.
Emerson also said Democrats did not specifically mention abortion in an attempt to gain bipartisan support, but it was unsuccessful.
Republicans had multiple concerns about the bill, according to Emerson.
She said Sen. Jesse James, R-Altoona, chair of the Senate Committee on Mental Health, Substance Abuse Prevention, and Children and Families, questioned whether “unaccompanied youth” applied to undocumented immigrants.
Rep. Donna Rozar, R-Marshfield, who has a background in nursing, had problems with the possibility of including healthcare for transgender runaway youth, according to Emerson.
These issues prompted a compromise draft with gender-affirming care as an exception, but Democrats did not agree with Republicans’ additions.
“I told my staff to burn that piece of paper,” Emerson said. “I think everyone deserves healthcare and gender-affirming care is healthcare. No politicians should be trying to play doctor.”
While the bill was corrected Monday, Emerson said Democrats felt the effect of this error.
“It feels like those nightmares that you have when you're in college,” Emerson said. “Oh, I missed the test deadline, or I missed the paper deadline.”
Mary Bosch is the Photo Editor for The Daily Cardinal and a first year Journalism student. She has also written campus, state and city news. Follow her on twitter: @MaryBosch06