Arizona House’s Health Committee passes bill that would prevent liability for gender discrimination by one vote

At the Arizona House’s Health and Human Services Committee meeting on Friday, lawmakers narrowly approved House Bill 2312 by a 5-4 vote. HB 2312 specifies that facilities that don’t allow biological male employees to be in the presence of a woman or minor children while living in the facility are not liable for gender discrimination, if the facility’s sole purpose is to provide safe and stable shelter for women or women and their minor children.

The committee’s primary concerns regarding HB 2312 related to forms of employment and gender discrimination under federal law.

 

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During public testimony, Marilyn Rodriguez provided opposition for Creosote Partners, a progressive lobbying and legislative advocate firm, on behalf of the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence. Rodriguez began by relaying how domestic and sexual service providers have long recognized how these issues affect more than women.

“Men, nonbinary, gender nonconforming and trans people are also affected by domestic violence, sexual assault, and trafficking,” Rodriguez said. “As such, shelters for victims accept individuals of all genders.” 

Rodriguez explained how in order to receive federal and state funding, facilities must be in compliance with the law. According to Rodriguez, Arizona’s service standards for sexual violence service providers and domestic violence service providers, as well as the Federal Violence Against Women Act of 1994, and the Reauthorization Act of 2013, explicitly forbid discrimination on the basis of sex.

“Discrimination against biological males is a blatant attempt to allow discrimination against trans individuals as well,” Rodriguez said. “This bill incurs that those who are biologically male are inherently dangerous to women, while the majority of victimization of others is committed by males, we are better-served to assess individuals on their merits to employ individuals based on their individual skills, merits, and histories, rather than on the basis of sex.”

Rep. Rachel Jones (R – Maricopa) is the sponsor of the bill and highlighted some of her personal experience. Jones’s 17-year-old daughter inspired the bill. She was adopted from foster care when she was nine years old, and her biological father trafficked her sisters. When working with survivors of domestic and sexual violence, Jones’s daughter learned that a shelter lost $4 million in funding because the facility hired only female staff to keep women safe. As soon as the Biden administration took office, Jones said that the shelter had to comply with hiring biological males or lose funding.

“The way the federal government handled it was stripping a grant from them,” Jones said.

Sen. Justine Wadsack (R – Maricopa) also provided personal experience to justify supporting the bill. She described how she worked with a young man who had a serious mental illness. He ended up being held in a facility for two weeks because no facility would accept him. Wadsack alleges the young man engaged in crimes against women and children.

“He did not identify as trans, but once the police at the mental health check services unit of TBD did take him and drop him off at Gospel Rescue Mission,” Wadsack said. “The Gospel Rescue Mission took him in, and he immediately changed his gender to female, changed his name — which was not done legally, they just accepted him that way—and then they blended him in with the women in the shelter. And this is a man who had just potentially raped children and women. And now he’s sleeping on the same side as the women.”

Wadsack stated that this individual used the system in an abusive way, and women who have been repeatedly sexually assaulted do not want to see a man, they want to feel safe.

While all committee members recognized HB 2312’s importance, uncertainties remain about the language of the bill and how that would relate to federal law.

The committee unanimously passed HB 2455, which expands the definition of developmental disabilities to include severe chronic disability attributed to Prader-Willi Syndrome, and HB 2037, which repeals civil penalties for dentists dispensing drugs for profit without being registered by the state board of dental examiners. The committee also unanimously passed HB 2473, which expands the scope of practice for dental hygienists to include dental hygiene treatment plans and assessments.