Apr 5, 2021
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson Press Conference: Bill Banning Medical Care for Transgender Youth Transcript
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson held a press conference on April 5, 2021, speaking out against a bill denying medical care for transgender youth. Read the transcript of his briefing remarks here.
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Governor Asa Hutchinson: (01:59)
Thank you for joining me this afternoon in a little bit of a different venue, and I appreciate you coming out. We have a little bit more room here, so you weren’t as crunched in together as you would be at my office at the Capitol, but thank you again for being here today. I was told this week that the nation is looking at Arkansas, because I have on my desk another bill passed by the General Assembly that is a product of the cultural war in America. I don’t shy away from the battle when it is necessary and defensible, but the most recent action of the General Assembly, while well-intended, is off course and I must veto House Bill 1570. I have signed the veto of House Bill 1570 today. I have notified the sponsors as well as the leadership in the House and Senate as well.
Governor Asa Hutchinson: (03:00)
I wanted today to explain a little bit of the reasoning. If House Bill 1570 becomes law than we are creating new standards of legislative interference with physicians and parents as they deal with some of the most complex and sensitive matters involving young people. It is undisputed that the population of minors who struggle with gender incongruity or gender dysphoria is an extreme minority. But while they are a minority, they deserve a guiding hand of their parents and of the healthcare professionals that their family has chosen. House Bill 1570 would put the state as the definitive oracle of medical care, overriding parents, patients, and healthcare experts. While in some instances the state must act to protect life, the state should not presume to jump into the middle of every medical, human and ethical issue. This would be, and is a vast government overreach.
Governor Asa Hutchinson: (04:13)
House Bill 1570 is opposed by the leading Arkansas medical associations, and the concern expressed is that denying best medical care to transgender youth can lead to significant harm to the young person from suicidal tendencies and social isolation to increased drug use. In Arkansas, gender reassignment surgery is not performed on anyone under age 18. If House Bill 1570, simply for pivoted gender reassignment surgeries, then I would sign the bill. But the bill is overboard, extreme and does not grandfather those young people who are currently under hormone treatment. In other words, the young people who are currently under a doctor’s care will be without treatment when this law goes into effect. That means they will be looking to the black market or go out of state if they can afford it, to find the treatment that they want and need. This is not the right path to put them on.
Governor Asa Hutchinson: (05:22)
Finally, I understand that the General Assembly will likely override his veto. House Bill 1570 had overwhelming support when it passed the first time, and as you know, it takes a simple majority to override the governor’s veto in Arkansas. I’m hopeful though that my action will cause conservative Republican legislators to think through the issue again, and hopefully come up with a more restrained approach that allows a thoughtful study of the science and ethics surrounding the issue before acting. Government under a conservative philosophy should be restrained, this is an example of where restraint is better than over broad actions that interfere with important relationships in our society. With that, I thank you for your attention, I’d be glad to take any questions.
Speaker 2: (06:18)
Governor, this action, does this reflect any reconsideration of signing the other measures have been targeting transgender people in Arkansas? And also, are you hoping to send a message to legislators about other measures that are out there dealing with transgender youth that are still in the pipeline?
Governor Asa Hutchinson: (06:42)
You take each bill separately, and as you know from my previous comments, the two previous bills related to transgender concern we’re the Medical Conscience Act, which was broader than simply transgender, that covers a whole host of medical procedures or activity that someone may have a religious or a conscious conviction against. And I look at that as consistent with freedom, it’s consistent with the being able to decide in a non-emergent fashion as to the health care services that you want to provide. And so I saw that as separate and distinct. The second bill was the Girls in Sport. And as I said, I’m a fan of women’s sports, and I think it undermined women’s sports to have biological males to compete in girls sports in high school or college level. So I look at those as totally independent and separate measures.
Governor Asa Hutchinson: (07:51)
Now, the sad part about it is that the first two measures were considered as anti-transgender, anti-gay, perhaps, and I think that is far from the truth, but you have to be concerned about the image that you are expressing from a State’s standpoint. And I want people in Arkansas and across the country to understand that whether they’re transgender or otherwise, that they’re loved, they’re appreciated and they make a part of our state and we want to send a message of tolerance and diversity. And so I look at this bill totally separately though, and each one of them stands on their own. And I do believe the legislators have been very well-intentioned on this, they want to do what they see as the right thing, but I have one vote to cast and I have to cast it in this fashion.
Speaker 3: (08:59)
Are you hoping to have any conversations with legislators ahead of this vote to possibly override your veto? And what would those conversations look like?
Governor Asa Hutchinson: (09:06)
Well, I’ve already had conversations with the sponsors of House Bill 1570, and I explained my reasonings for it. It was a courtesy call as well, we have good relationship. We work on a lot of different bills together. I’ve talked to the leadership as well. But whatever you had, this bill passed with overwhelming majority, I fully expected a veto override and that’s the legislative prerogative, just like this is a responsibility that I have. So I’ve made my statement on it, and we’ll see where it goes from here. Yes.
Speaker 4: (09:45)
When considering House Bill 1570, did you meet with any transgender youth or [inaudible 00:09:52]?
Governor Asa Hutchinson: (09:52)
I did. And people who know me, they wonder why I’m taking so long to make a decision is because, when I make the decision I’ve got to defend it, and I have to understand it. And so this weekend was the same pattern I’ve had previously, I’ve talked to… Last week, I talked to transgender individuals who expressed their viewpoints to me. I’ve met with Arkansas Children’s Hospital in terms of their treatment protocols and how they handle these issues and why they set up a specialty on this. I talked to national leaders on this as well on both sides of the equation. And along with receiving literally hundreds, if not thousands of communications from individuals across the country and across Arkansas.
Speaker 5: (10:49)
Governor, back in 2015, when you kind of got to this point with the Religious Freedom Bill that popped up, you sent it back with a lot of changes, a lot of it more narrowly focused, and they did that for you. Why not go back [inaudible 00:11:05]?
Governor Asa Hutchinson: (11:04)
Well, it’s one of those things you probably can only do once. And so it’s one that I appreciated that they did redo the bill to give us a Religious Restoration Act that I could sign. But when it gets to my desk I really have two options, sign it into law, veto it, or the third option could be to let it go into law without my signature. I’ve done all three, and as well as trying to send it back, this is the right way constitutionally to handle it. It is simply up to the legislature as to what they do now. They have the options to override, not to override, or they could redo the legislation, but that is their prerogative once I have made this decision today.
Speaker 6: (12:00)
So you’ve mentioned a few times that you expect the legislature to override your veto. Do you have any plans to make any phone calls, have any meetings to kind of try to sustain their veto?
Governor Asa Hutchinson: (12:16)
They will know through private communication and the communication today my decision and my reasoning on this, and we’ll see where it goes from there. [inaudible 00:12:26].
Speaker 7: (12:25)
Yes, sir. To what extent was it communicated to you either through ADDC or [inaudible 00:12:35] through your executive offices, the prospects of economic development, I won’t say retaliation, well, retaliation perhaps? Or inhibitions of him moving forward [inaudible 00:12:49]?
Governor Asa Hutchinson: (12:49)
Actually there was very little, if any expressed on these fields in terms of economic impact. Now, you see what’s happened around the country and you recognize corporate policy can engage in some of these social and cultural issues. And so it wouldn’t have surprised me had that occurred, but in fact, it did not occur. I think the message of business and the message of those concerned about the economic future of Arkansas, the focus has been on passing a hate crimes bill, which will be in Senate committee this afternoon. And so that’s their hope, and I think that’s what they concentrated on. I have not had a great deal of communications on the business side, on this particular issue.
Speaker 8: (13:46)
On topic of that hate crime legislation, this is the second hate crime bill that’s proposed, kind of an alternative. You had previously said that you do support the first one, what are your thoughts on the second one that is hitting committee today?
Governor Asa Hutchinson: (13:57)
I support it. This is legislatively driven. Speaker Shepherd and Senate Pro Temp Hickey have worked hard on it. They wanted to get a bill passed, and they thought this was the best vehicle to do it. And I’m very appreciative of how hard they worked on it. I hope the Senate Judiciary Committee passes it out. This is one of those things that I have a high regard for the legislative process, and while the original bill was probably the strongest, this one does move the ball forward, it accomplishes a great deal in terms of protecting any group that might be targeted because of who they are. That is success under any definition, as the speaker as said, the penalties are more severe, the breadth is more clear. And so I hope that they pass that today. The only things missing is a strict itemization. This is unique, it’s an Arkansas solution. And if it passes, we’ll see what the outcome is, but I think it will be positive.
Speaker 9: (15:04)
In your discussions with people on this bill today, did you have any of those conversations about the likelihood of this being overwritten and kind of what to do from there?
Governor Asa Hutchinson: (15:17)
No, I looked at this bill as a matter of, where do I want my voice to be? What is my position on this and what should reflect the position of Arkansas on it? And how can I express the right balance between what people might perceive as their values versus the broader values that might be in different families and in different communities and the struggle that young people have? And at this particular point in time with the medical information that we have, interfering by the state in a parent, in a child, in a doctor/patient relationship did not make sense to me.
Governor Asa Hutchinson: (16:08)
And so this was not about whether my veto’s going to be sustained, whether it’s overwritten, I’ve acted based upon the assumption that it will be overwritten, because I know that there’s strong feelings and support for this, and it had a very high vote percentage, but we’ll see. I make my position, it is important for the people of Arkansas who care about this issue, but also will question why I’m doing this, I want them to understand why I’m doing this and the thought process behind it.
Speaker 10: (16:42)
Yes. Is there a [inaudible 00:16:48] conference on conservative leadership [inaudible 00:16:49] legislators [inaudible 00:16:51] we’re also seeing a potential confirmation hearing for Dr. Jose Romero. [inaudible 00:16:58].
Governor Asa Hutchinson: (16:58)
Between myself and the legislature?
Speaker 10: (17:00)
Yes, and the Republicans.
Governor Asa Hutchinson: (17:02)
Well, I think it reflects that we’re a big party with a lot of different competing ideas. And as I’ve told the legislature many times, there’s a natural tension that our founding fathers designed between the different branches of government, that’s what makes our democracy healthy. And so there should be that natural tension, and sometimes disagreement. This year, has probably been a little bit more challenging because it’s a longer session. We’re doing more cultural bills than we’ve done in the past. We have very vigorous debates about that, and there’s always room for disagreeing with your party, but I think it… I just had a lunch with the legislative leadership, and we have probably one of the most positive relationships we’ve had working on key issues, our communications goes well. And so I think it’s a good relationship that we have, but it can be defined sometimes with a little tension and that’s okay.
Speaker 11: (18:16)
Do you think the legislature is going overboard with the number of cultural wars type bills that are coming through right now, especially as pushy as they are?
Governor Asa Hutchinson: (18:27)
Well, some of them are unnecessary. I mean, I signed a bill today, I won’t try to define which one it is, but it’s a bill I don’t necessarily disagree with, but we don’t have a problem in Arkansas. And so I signed the bill, but was that needed? And why did we do this? And so I’ve always concentrated on the tenants of the Republican party, which if you go back to the Ronald Reagan era, it is social conservatism, it is economic conservatism and it is strong defense. Well, in Arkansas we don’t have to worry about the defense side of things, and so we’re looking at our economic conservatism and we’re looking at our cultural or social conservatism and sometimes those clash. And that’s where you get some tension, and it’s okay, because we all have different perspectives that we bring.
Governor Asa Hutchinson: (19:30)
But sometimes it is important to remind ourselves that part of the Republican principles is a restrained government. Part of the base of the Republican party is that libertarian strain. Well, the more you act as a government on some of these social issues… Which again, I’m pro-life, and so that’s a life that is a issue, and I sign those bills, I support those bills, I want those bills. But sometimes you’ve got to pull back and say, “Is this really the role of a state? Is this a really reflecting confidence in parents and doctors to make good decisions?”
Governor Asa Hutchinson: (20:14)
And so I hope that my statement today, both here in Arkansas, but also nationally just causes Republicans to think again about who we are and how sometimes we have to restrain the government in areas that in our own personal lives we might say, “We’re going to act in a particular way, but we can’t make everybody else act in the same way.” That’s to me called a restrained government.
Speaker 11: (20:48)
Do you think this could withstand a legal challenge? The ACLU said if it’s enacted, they will sue.
Governor Asa Hutchinson: (20:57)
I don’t know the answer to that. The big concern I had is that you have patients in Arkansas, and there’s probably fewer than 200, fewer than 200 young people in Arkansas that would be on any kind of hormone treatment with a permission of their parent and their doctor. This does not have a grandfather clause, as I said. And so if this bill is passed, what happens to those young people that are currently under treatment? That makes my heart hurt to think about it, and I wish the legislation should’ve included a grandfather clause as well as a being more [inaudible 00:21:46].
Speaker 12: (21:46)
Governor, how much did your conversations, just over the past few days with transgender people or people [inaudible 00:21:51] change your mind or affect your decision?
Governor Asa Hutchinson: (21:56)
Well, it educates me and it informs me, and so it strengthens your compassion, it gives you more understanding. But at the same time, those that I spoke on the other side of the equation also informed me and I understood their sincerity, and that’s what makes these kinds of things a tough decision, because both sides of this issue are well-meaning, looking after the good of our society in their own way. And so I wouldn’t want to say one side informed me the most, both sides informed me and I had to make a judgment.
Speaker 13: (22:37)
[inaudible 00:22:37]. What’s your response to those [inaudible 00:22:55]-
Governor Asa Hutchinson: (22:54)
All right, can you talk a little bit slower for me or take off your mask if you could?
Speaker 13: (23:04)
Sure. Yeah, definitely. [Inaudible 00:23:05]. So the NCAA has indicated that they may not hold tournaments in States with laws like Senate Bill 354, [inaudible 00:23:13] response to the new voting laws in Georgia. What’s your response to those athletic organization’s decisions? Is it something you’re taking into account?
Governor Asa Hutchinson: (23:24)
I think they’re not making good judgments. I actually spoke to a leader of the Georgia House of Representatives today on a separate matter in my position as a vice-chair at the National Governor’s Association. So we got into, obviously, the voting bill… Sorry, my apologies directly to you.
Speaker 14: (23:48)
Governor Asa Hutchinson: (23:54)
[inaudible 00:23:54]. Whether you agree or disagree with the Georgia law, it hurts the average citizen of Georgia. It hurts the baseball fans, it hurts the baseball vendors and the hospitality industry whenever large corporations make decisions along social policy, and I struggle with that. So I’m not very pleased with Major League Baseball’s decision. I don’t think it’s beneficial to the sport or beneficial, even to those in Georgia that they’re trying to influence. I’ve heard the Mayor of Atlanta talk, and she might be opposed to the voting bill that was passed, but she sure doesn’t like the fact that her city and her state has been hurt by this. And so in terms of that influence on me, I try to make my decisions based upon other factors.
Governor Asa Hutchinson: (25:09)
But I also recognize the image of Arkansas is important and that we have a growing economy, and when people want to look at Arkansas, I want them to think of a place that is tolerant, that has a hate crime bill, that it’s acceptance of people that might be different, and that we put a value on other people’s lives that might be different than ours. I want that image of Arkansas, so image is also always important for a governor and the impression people have of our state. And so that is a factor, even though I don’t make it simply on economic decisions. Final question.
Speaker 15: (25:48)
Speaking of [inaudible 00:25:50] still the vice chair of the Governor’s Association, [inaudible 00:25:55], and talk about that situation. Is he still the chairman of the Governor’s Association?
Governor Asa Hutchinson: (25:58)
He is the chairman. So the way the National Governor’s Association works is that the Republican Caucus, if you will, the Republican Governors will select who they want to be the head of the NGA when it’s the Republicans term. Right now, it’s the democratic term, and so the Democrats chose Andrew Cuomo to be their nominee for vice chair, then he became chair. And so even if Andrew Cuomo stepped aside, it’s the Democrats chance to fill that position. And so it’s really a separate issue. I’m not going to be chair until August, under any circumstances. So I’m happy with that, I’ll bide by time. Thank you all, I know this was a narrow news conference, but I thought it was important and I appreciate y’all coming out today. Thank you.