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Arizona state senator blocks bill sending transgender laws to ballot, citing 'nephews and nieces'

Arizona Sen. Ken Bennett (R-Prescott) voted twice Monday in favor of policies critics say target the transgender community. 

Then, he cast a crucial third vote against those same policies.

Bennett helped pass two conservative bills that would require transgender students to use different bathrooms and changing rooms from their peers and ban school employees from using a student's preferred pronouns without parental consent

Both bills are sure to be vetoed by Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs.

But Bennett rejected a third measurethat would have bypassed the governor and put both those same policies up to a vote on the ballot in November.

“I can probably identify three or four of my nephews and nieces that would fall under some of these situations, and I have to always think of them on behalf of everyone who’s in one of these situations. How would I want a state law to affect them at such tender ages?” he said.

Bennett said he was concerned that once passed by voters, any unintended consequences wouldn’t be fixable. Arizona’s Voter Protection Act prevents lawmakers from outright repealing voter-approved laws, or amending them unless changes further the intent of the law.

Progressive transgender lobbyist Gaelle Esposito gave some credit to the transgender kids and their families for meeting with Bennett one on one. 

“I think putting a human face to it made all the difference, because we’re such a small population, oftentimes people have just never met a transgender person before, and it’s based in that irrational fear of the other,” she said. 

“I think it was still a surprise, there’s a lot of political pressure and a lot of incentives the other way. That’s a tough vote to take and a brave one,” Esposito added.

Bennett’s rejection of the ballot referral may have consequences. 

In 2022, former Republican Sen. Tyler Pace voted against a bill that would have banned hormone therapy for transgender youth. He was called a RINO – Republican in name only – and was voted out in the next election.

The bills and resolution sponsor Sen. John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills) said that if Bennett changes his mind, he’ll bring the bill back up for reconsideration.

More stories from KJZZ

Camryn Sanchez is a field correspondent at KJZZ covering everything to do with state politics.