Teeing up the issue for Gov. Ron DeSantis, Florida lawmakers on Thursday passed a plan that would prevent doctors and other health-care providers from offering treatments such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy to transgender minors.
The Republican-controlled Senate voted 26-13 to approve the bill (SB 254), with the House quickly following with an 83-28 vote. The votes were along almost straight party lines, with Sen. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, joining Democrats in opposition.
DeSantis, who has called such treatments “child mutilation,” is expected to sign the bill.
The state Agency for Health Care Administration, which is under DeSantis, approved a rule last year that prohibited Medicaid reimbursements for puberty blockers, hormone therapy and surgery for transgender youths and adults. Also, at the DeSantis administration’s urging, state medical boards adopted rules that prevented doctors from providing the treatments to minors.
The bill, however, would go further by putting a prohibition on treatments for minors into state law.
“We cannot speak something into existence that doesn’t exist. We cannot change our sex,” House co-sponsor Ralph Massullo, a Lecanto Republican who is a dermatologist, said. “And for those children that this bill addresses, they cannot change their sex, and they need to learn that fact.”
But Rep. Kelly Skidmore, D-Boca Raton, said the bill “puts people in danger of not being able to get the care they need.” She also said lawmakers should not interfere with decisions made by physicians and patients.
“We are not the end-all and the be-all when it comes to private, personal health-care decisions,” Skidmore said.
Thursday’s votes came after House and Senate sponsors worked out differences in earlier versions of the bill.
The issue centers, at least in part, on treatment for gender dysphoria, which the federal government defines clinically as “significant distress that a person may feel when sex or gender assigned at birth is not the same as their identity,”
The bill would prevent health-care providers from offering puberty blockers, hormone therapy and surgical procedures to treat transgender minors. It would take effect immediately upon DeSantis’ signature.
Physicians could face third-degree felony charges for violating the prohibition on care for minors.
The bill includes an exemption for minors currently receiving puberty blockers or hormone therapy. But it also would require the state Board of Medicine and the Board of Osteopathic Medicine to create rules to establish standards of practice for physicians providing care to such minors.
While adults would be able to receive the treatments, the bill includes additional restrictions. For example, adults would have to sign consent forms that would be developed by the medical boards. Also, the bill would prevent the use of telehealth in providing treatments.
Florida is among numerous Republican-controlled states that have moved forward this year with proposals targeted at transgender people.
Florida lawmakers on Wednesday passed a bill (HB 1521) aimed at requiring people to use bathrooms that line up with their sex assigned at birth. Also, they gave approval last month to a bill (SB 1438) that would block venues from admitting children to “adult live performances.” While the bill doesn’t specifically mention drag shows, it came after DeSantis’ administration took steps such as filing a complaint against the Hyatt Regency Miami hotel for hosting a “Drag Queen Christmas” event in December.
Each of the trans-related bills sparked heavy debate throughout this year’s legislative session, which will end Friday.
During debate Thursday on the treatment bill, Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said lawmakers should not create divisions for “political gain.”
“These (transgender people) are your neighbors, your friends, your loved ones, your co-workers,” Eskamani said. “They just want to be their authentic selves and access the health care they need to do so.”
But in an interview with The News Service of Florida, House co-sponsor Randy Fine, R-Brevard County, described the issue as a “fundamental battle over the future of our children.”
“The woke left does not believe in the idea of childhood,” Fine said. “They don’t believe in protecting children.”
— News Service Assignment Manager Tom Urban contributed to this report.