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Les Yoakum waves a flag as he high-fives race participants finishing the inaugural New Orleans Pride Run & Walk Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018, in New Orleans. Nearly 1,000 participants snaked through Crescent Park and the Bywater for the 5k race, which benefits BreakOUT!, an advocacy group that seeks to end the criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth in New Orleans.

A week after rejecting a near-identical proposal, Louisiana's House Education Committee on Wednesday advanced legislation that would bar transgender athletes from participating on sports teams that align with their gender identity. 

State Sen. Beth Mizell, a Republican from Franklinton, said her Senate Bill 156 is aimed at maintaining fairness in girls sports, though opponents argue it's discriminatory. It requires athletic teams or sporting events for girls at public K-12 schools be composed only of "biological females," or those who presumably were listed as female at birth.

The measure passed out of committee by a 10-4 margin — gaining support from Republican Reps Barbara Freiberg, of Baton Rouge, and Stephanie Hilferty, of New Orleans, who cast deciding votes last week to kill a near-identical proposal. Neither GOP lawmaker would comment Wednesday on their change of heart. 

In a session that began with four separate bills each aimed at limiting transgender rights, SB156 is the last proposal of its kind still standing. It now heads to the Republican-dominated House where its all but certain to earn passage.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, has already said he disapproves of the proposal, so to become law, the measure will likely need two-thirds support from both chambers to overcome a gubernatorial veto. The Senate last week passed SB156 by a 29-4 margin, with little debate. 

SB156 mirrors a wave of legislation introduced by Republican state lawmakers across the country, which opponents argue are rooted in discrimination and fear and likely violate federal laws barring sex discrimination. 

"This is a non-issue and a blatant act of discrimination," said Elliot Wade, with Louisiana Trans Advocates. He added that transgender youth face an over 40% rate of suicide attempts and said the measure will only "remove another opportunity for youth to feel like they belong."

When asked, Mizell on Wednesday again admitted that she didn't know of any examples in Louisiana where the participation of transgender athletes in sports at any level had caused a problem and instead called the measure "preemptive." 

"We build levees before a flood ever comes," Mizell said. "Do we want to wait until there’s a problem before we create the framework to go by?"

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Mizell and others say the measure is necessary to protect the integrity of women's sports, arguing that transgender girls are born faster and stronger, and therefore have an unfair advantage in competition. 

Claston Bernard, a 6-foot-4 former Olympian and former LSU athlete, noted that it had been years since he had competed. Yet, he still can clear a high jump bar set over 6-feet – high enough to put him among the elite women athletes in that event.

Rep. Vinney St. Blanc, a Franklin Republican, said that if transgender athletes are allowed to compete, "every girl's record will be broken."

As it currently stands, there are no transgender athletes competing on high school sports teams that align with their gender identity. That's because the existing regulations set by the Louisiana High School Athletic Association require transgender athletes to undergo sex reassignment surgery — a drastic intervention that’s widely restricted from minors.

Rep. Barbara Freiberg said she was disappointed the LHSAA didn't appear Wednesday to testify on the bill, noting that she thinks it is the responsibility of sports regulating associations – like the NCAA – to regulate sports. 

"I think they are passing the buck with you," Freiberg said to Mizell. 

The NCAA Board of Governors said recently it will only host championship events in states that are “safe, healthy and free of discrimination.” The board didn’t spell out what it meant specifically, but the Final Four is slated to be held in New Orleans in 2022, a fact that has prompted some to worry the legislation could thwart that event. 

Rep. Laurie Schlegel, a Republican who recently won a special election to represent Metairie, said that as a counselor, she's sensitive to vulnerable populations and human suffering. Still, Schlegel said "as a woman, I see this as pro-women."

Voting for SB156 (10): Reps. Mark Wright, R-Covington; Raymond Garofalo, R-Chalmette; Beryl Amedee, R-Houma; Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge; Barbara Freiberg, R-Baton Rouge; Stephanie Hilferty, R-Metairie; Charles Owens, R-Rosepine; Laurie Schlegel, R-Jefferson; Vinney St. Blanc, R-Franklin; and Eric Tarver, R-Lake Charles.  

Voting against SB156 (4): Reps. Ken Brass, D-Vacherie; Aimee Adatto Freeman, D-New Orleans; Patrick Jefferson, D-Homer; and Tammy Phelps, D-Shreveport.

Email Blake Paterson at bpaterson@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter @blakepater