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Bill to ease gender switch on birth certificates advances to State Legislature

    The Hawaii State Senate at the opening of the 2015 Hawaii State Legislature.

Switching gender on birth certificates could get a lot easier for transgender people in Hawaii.

A proposal to allow people to change gender on their birth certificates without having to undergo surgery cleared a legislative hurdle Thursday, sending the bill to the full Legislature for a vote on the brink of a legislative deadline.

The breakthrough was an emotional moment for Kaleo Ramos, a transgender man who contemplated suicide as a child when he didn’t feel at peace with life as a girl. Ramos said the legislation is just the beginning for transgender equality in Hawaii.

"I cannot express how much this will mean to our community," Ramos said. "We lost so many people along the way to suicide, and we don’t want to lose any more."

The change will improve the lives of many in the community who can’t afford or don’t want to have surgery, he said.

Under the proposal, instead of having a sex change operation people could get a note from a medical provider saying the person’s birth certificate doesn’t reflect their gender identification. Having identification that reflects one’s outward appearance is critical when applying for jobs and signing up for services, advocates say.

"It means the world to a lot of people to allow them to lead the life that they’re meant to lead and to get really basic necessities," said Rebecca Copeland, a volunteer parent advocate with Equality Hawaii.

If the bill passes the full Legislature, Hawaii will join at least six states with a similar law.

Here are a few more of the flurry of bills passed out of conference committees before a legislative deadline Thursday:

SEX TRAFFICKING: Hawaii is one step closer to shedding the distinction of being the only state without a sex trafficking ban. A panel cleared a bill that would create a victim-centered approach to prosecuting those that coerce people into prostitution. Kathryn Xian, executive director of the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery, said the bill is a huge step in the right direction and long overdue.

The bill would establish a statewide program to protect victims and their families.

"I think we will make it easier to prosecute people who are trying to take advantage of often younger individuals who are often basically sold into the sex trade," said Rep. Karl Rhoads, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

SUPER PACS: Voters could get more information on who’s dumping money into campaign ads. A bill aimed at super PACs would require non-candidate committees to file and additional campaign spending report earlier in the election cycle.

CLEFT PALATES: In a lighter moment, a panel cleared a bill that would mandate insurance coverage of orthodontic treatment of facial abnormalities. Lawmakers announced they would name the law after Anya Maya, a 6-year-old who attended the hearing on her birthday to advocate for the bill. Legislators and lobbyists sang happy birthday to Anya after the committee passed the proposal. "This is going to change so many families’ lives," said Anya’s mother, Michele Pestel-Maga.

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