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Kentucky lawmakers struggle to finish transgender bill

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) -- Republican lawmakers in Kentucky struggled to wrap up a bill restricting gender-affirming care for minors, as internal differences complicated their push to beat a Thursday deadline to complete the sweeping proposal denounced by some outside voices within their party.

The Senate scaled back the bill on a razor-thin vote Wednesday night, but action then abruptly halted as the GOP-dominated chamber looked to regroup Thursday. It's the last day lawmakers will meet until reconvening in late March for the final two days of this year's session. Lawmakers have to complete work on the bill by Thursday to be able to override a potential veto by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.

Senate President Robert Stivers said Wednesday night that he didn't know if some version would ultimately pass, pointing to the "varying opinions." The Senate voted 19-17 to pare down the bill's limitations on transgender youth, their families and health care providers.

"This is not the easiest of subject matter topics," Stivers told reporters.

In a session dominated by culture war issues, the fate of the transgender bill -- or what version could win a consensus -- might not be decided until late Thursday. Republican leaders also face having to reconcile differences between the Senate and House, where the GOP also has a supermajority.

Asked about the bill's prospects just before the Senate convened Thursday, Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer said, "Stay tuned."

The bill's "roller-coaster ride" in the Senate was a reflection of "what happens when the party of small government runs a bill that couldn't be a more obvious government overreach," said Chris Hartman, executive director of the Fairness Campaign, a Kentucky-based LGBTQ advocacy organization.

The issue has spurred emotional debate from bill opponents who call it discriminatory and say it would hurt transgender youth. On Tuesday, a former Kentucky lawmaker said his young grandchild would be among those affected if lawmakers banned access to gender-affirming medical care for those under 18.

"This bill condemns vulnerable children to an even more difficult life than they've already been born into," Jerry Miller, a Republican who formerly served in the House, told lawmakers. "Please don't let a parent's right to protect their children be collateral damage in the culture wars."

The bill's supporters say they are trying to protect children from undertaking gender-affirming treatments that they might later regret as adults.

"I don't think this bill could be strong enough," Republican Sen. Lindsey Tichenor said during a Senate committee hearing Tuesday. "We're talking about irreparable, permanent changes to a child. Their brains are not developed ... They have no idea what the consequences could be until they get to that age, and at that point you cannot undo what is being done."

In the latest twist, Republican Sen. Danny Carroll offered the successful amendment Wednesday that scaled back the gender-affirming language that passed the House. Under his language, surgical medical treatments for trans youths would still be barred but some nonsurgical treatment options would be allowed with parental consent. Nonsurgical options allowed would include reversible puberty blockers.

To receive gender-affirming care, a child would have to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria and receive care from a physician and a mental health provider.

The amendment didn't touch on other layers of the bill that were added by the Senate committee on Tuesday. One addition would allow teachers to refuse to refer to transgender students by their preferred pronouns. It also would require that parents be given notice and an opportunity to review materials before content relating to sexuality is taught at their children's school.

Nationally, state lawmakers are approving extensive measures against LGBTQ individuals this year, from bills targeting trans athletes and drag performers to ones limiting gender-affirming care. In Mississippi, Republican Gov. Tate Reeves recently signed a bill to ban gender-affirming hormones or surgery in the state for anyone younger than 18. The Republican governors of South Dakota and Utah have signed bans on gender-affirming care this year.

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