Hobbs vetoes controversial student pronouns bill, other legislation

Hobbs, veto, pronouns, transgender students

Arizona won't prohibit teachers from referring to students by their preferred pronoun or name. In vetoing the measure on May 22, 2023, Gov. Katie Hobbs called it just another piece of "harmful legislation directed at transgender youth.'' And the governor said similar measures will meet the same fate. (Photo courtesy of Katie Hobbs via Facebook)

Hobbs vetoes controversial student pronouns bill, other legislation

Arizona won’t bar teachers from referring to students by their preferred pronoun or name.

In vetoing the measure Monday, Gov. Katie Hobbs called it just another piece of “harmful legislation directed at transgender youth.” And the governor said similar measures will meet the same fate.

Seven other measures also did not meet with the governor’s approval. Other bills vetoed on Monday include:

– Requiring county recorders to post a list of all registered voters, a list of all who voted in the election, and the unaltered images of ballots used to tabulate the results. Hobbs said while she understands it is designed to promote transparency, it threatens the anonymity and privacy of voters and “opens the door to the spread of additional election mis- and dis-information, which there is far too much of already.”

– Repealing the law that does not allow most cities and towns to have partisan elections for council members. “Arizona’s communities are simply not asking for their local elections to be partisan affairs,” Hobbs wrote.

– Making it more difficult for cities to create political sign-free zones, saying she is not sure what problem is that the measure aims to solve. “Arizonans are not asking for more campaign signs in their communities.”

– Creating new requirements for unemployment eligibility and mandating actions the Department of Economic Security has to take before providing benefits. Hobbs said too many Arizona workers have struggled to access benefits and “deserve a reliable, timely, and easy-to-navigate system.”

All totaled, Hobbs has now vetoed 94 measures sent to her by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

It was the measure about transgender kids that got the most attention of the bills Hobbs acted on on Monday — and her veto which got the angriest reaction from its sponsor, Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills. He called it “reckless and irresponsible” for Hobbs, a former social worker, to allow schools to withhold information about a student’s gender identification from a parent.

Only thing is, nothing in his legislation actually would have required teachers or schools to say anything to parents.

Instead, it would have barred school employees from referring to a student by a pronoun “that differs from the pronoun that aligns with the student’s biological sex,” regardless of the student’s preference.

Another provision required teachers to use only the first or middle name listed on a student’s official records. Nicknames would be allowed but it would have to be one “that is commonly associated with the student’s name of record.” What that means, Kavanagh said, is Charles could be called Chuck. But not Betty.

Only if a teacher agreed to the student’s request would there be a requirement to first notify a parent and get consent.

The veteran lawmaker insisted this was not a measure designed to attack transgender youth but to ensure that parents are informed if their children are identifying themselves by a gender other than the one that they are assigned at birth, a condition known as “gender dysphoria.” That, he said, would ensure the children can get the psychological treatment they may need to deal with depression and possible suicide.

Kavanagh, pronouns
Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills

And Kavanagh noted that the legislation contained an exception, allowing teachers to use a student’s preferred pronoun if parents first give written permission.

He said that is in accordance with state laws empowering parents to direct the upbringing of their youngsters. And Kavanagh said it is no different than requiring parental consent for other school-related issues, ranging from going on a school trip and being on a sports team to even taking an aspirin at school.

“They need permission from the parents,” he said.

But even that parental OK would not have been absolute: Kavanagh’s measure would have allowed teachers to refuse to honor the parent’s wishes if it were contrary to their “religious or moral convictions.”

During House debate on the measure, Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, rejected Kavanagh’s contention that the legislation would help children who are questioning their gender identification by ensuring their parents can help.

The problem, she said, is that there are studies showing that 70% of transgender youth do not have supportive families. And Salman said 33% of trans and non-binary youth don’t find their current home a “safe space” to speak with the parents about that.

Kavanagh rejected those arguments.

“That situation would be a small, small percentage of the overall cases,” he told Capitol Media Services.

“Not that the parents would all be thrilled,” Kavanagh continued. “But the point where they’d be throwing kids out or threatening them is a minute percentage.”

And he said that minority should not set state policy which he believes should say that parents should have the information about what their children are telling their teachers about their gender orientation.

“Parents have a right to know if their children are in psychological turmoil,” he said. Kavanagh said that includes whether youngsters are confused, depressed, anxious, isolating themselves or in need of mental health care because of gender dysphoria.

“Parents can’t get their children the counseling or therapy needed if their school is hiding this information from them,” he said.

And Kavanagh took a swat at Hobbs for her action.

“For the governor to turn a blind eye to what’s happening is reckless and irresponsible,” he said. “I would expect more from a former social worker.”

Hobbs, however, said she sees the issue through a different lens.

“Instead of coming up with new ways to target and isolate our children, we should be working together to create an Arizona where everyone has the freedom to be who they are without fear of harassment or judgment,” the governor said in a separate Twitter post.

The decision by Republicans to approve the measure on a party-line vote came despite pleas from Rep. Lorena Austin, D-Mesa, who describes herself as the first “nonbinary, gender nonconforming representative” that they consider the effects.

“I can tell you as a young person, if this bill had come through when I was in high school, it would have terrified me,” she told colleagues. “I was already terrified of knowing that I would not be accepted in the society as such.”

Hobbs specifically thanked Austin, who uses the pronouns “she” and “her” along with “they” and “their,” for “telling their story and speaking their truth.”

And the governor said she wanted to reemphasize Austin’s words to young people that “you have every right to be who you are.”

Still waiting in the wings is another Kavanagh bill. Also passed along party lines, it would require schools to create “reasonable accommodations” — meaning a third choice — for any student who will not use a restroom designated for his or her sex.

That measure already has been approved by the House and Senate. But so far the Senate GOP leadership has not transmitted it to Hobbs.

Senate President Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, offered no explanation for holding onto the bill. But the legislation is likely to meet the same fate as the bill on pronouns.

“I will veto every bill that aims to attack and harm children,” the governor wrote in rejecting the pronouns bill.