Lawmakers consider the financial impact of defining 'male' and 'female'
HELENA -- Proponents of a bill moving through the Senate that would define what the terms male and female mean in Montana law say it would have no financial impact on the state. But, opponents of the bill at a hearing on Friday say the potential impact is too large to quantify.
Senate Bill 458 is sponsored by Sen. Carl Glimm, R-Kila, and it would define the terms male and female in Montana code. Males would be “a member of the human species that, under normal development, produces a mobile gamete or sperm” and similarly females would be “a human who produces a immobile gamete or egg under normal development.”
The bill already passed the Senate Health Public Welfare and Safety Committee with a vote of 6-3 but was then referred to the Senate Finance and Claims Committee to evaluate how it would affect the state financially. Glimm said the bill’s fiscal impact would be simple — nothing.
“Really it's that simple. And the fiscal note shows zero impact to the state,” Glimm said.
The bill had three proponents at Friday’s finance hearing and six opponents, including SK Rossi, who represented the Human Rights Campaign. They said that a fiscal note like that on a more-than 60-page bill was too good to be true.
“I think you should be suspicious of something that impacts 40 different sections of code and has a zero fiscal note. I also want to be clear that the submission from the Department of Corrections didn't necessarily say there will be — it actually said the opposite of there will be no fiscal impact. They actually said there will be a fiscal impact that they cannot quantify because it will put them in conflict with federal code,” Rossi said.
Opponents also said this bill could open Montana up to discrimination lawsuits if passed.
In a fiscal analysis the Department of Corrections writes that “it is not possible to quantify the costs of litigation that may result from SB-458, but the department believes that the fiscal impact would be quite significant.”
Frank Cote represented the State Auditor's office and spoke as an informational witness. He said he was unable to figure out how much money this bill could cost the state in legal fees.
“What impact these definitions have in Title 33 — it's just hard to tell. As I mentioned, we don't use the term male, so we now added a definition in Title 33, which does what? I don't know. And so it's just impossible to figure out if there would be a fiscal impact, if somebody would argue that definition could impact something somewhere along the way. I — we just don't know,” Cote said.
Proponents of the bill at the hearing in the Senate Public Health and Safety Committee said that differentiation between gender and sex is necessary to avoid confusion. Opponents said the bill was discriminatory to gender-diverse people and didn’t do anything to help Montana law except to make trans and non-binary peoples’ lives harder.
The Finance and Claims committee did not take immediate action on the bill Friday.
Elinor Smith is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Montana Newspaper Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.