(Headline USA) A South Dakota legislative committee on Friday approved a bill championed by Republican Gov. Kristi Noem to ban transgender females from participating in school sports leagues with biological women and girls.
Noem last year shied away from signing a similar bill, issuing a “style and form veto” and arguing that it was flawed because it put the state at risk of litigation and retribution from the NCAA.
But after seeing her standing with social conservatives damaged by it, she capitalized on the momentum of a cause taking hold among Republicans for “protecting fairness in women’s sports.”
With Noem’s full-fledged support, the bill received enthusiastic approval in the Republican-dominated Senate State Affairs committee, clearing a legislative hurdle that has been a key roadblock to similar South Dakota bills in the past. It was the first bill the committee took up this year as lawmakers try to fast-track it through the Statehouse.
Every Republican on the committee approved the bill, despite complaints from the Left that it alienates and bullies transgender students and exposes public schools to legal action for a political cause that has not been an issue in South Dakota.
Proponents say it protects girls’ sports from trans athletes who may be bigger, faster and stronger than their peers. The issue played out recently in the Ivy Leagues, where a biological male swimming for the University of Pennsylvania’s women’s team was defeated by a biological female on the Yale team who is in the process of transitioning to male but chose to compete as a woman.
“Allowing males to compete destroys fair competition and athletic opportunities for girls,” Rachel Oglesby, the governor’s policy advisor, told the committee. “Similarly gifted and trained males will always have physical advantages over females.”
If the bill passes the Legislature, South Dakota could be the 10th Republican-dominated state to adopt such a ban on transgender women or girls. In two of those states—Idaho and West Virginia—the laws have been halted by activist federal judges. The partisan Department of Justice has challenged bans in other states, slamming them as violations of federal law.
The high school activities association asserted that it already has a policy in place that ensures fair competition. The schools evaluate applications from transgender athletes on a case-by-case basis and have only once allowed a trans girl to play in a girls’ league. She did not spoil the competition, the athletics association has insisted.
Groups representing public schools said politicians are forcing them to choose between violating state law or federal policy. In such cases, state law generally has supremacy, although noncompliance may result in the loss of federal funding.
The Associated School Boards warned that schools could lose funds if an investigation from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found them to have violated students’ rights.
In an acknowledgment that schools were being put at legal risk, the governor’s office amended the bill to stipulate that the state would provide legal representation and pay the costs of any lawsuits.
Mark Miller, the governor’s chief of staff, insisted that the proposed law complied with the Constitution, that other states had successfully implemented similar laws and the state would prevail in court if sued.
Noem launched a campaign ad this week that claimed she “never backed down” on the issue, despite having capitulated to pressure last year.
If there were any doubt that her political ambitions lie beyond South Dakota—the state where she is running for reelection and where the proposed law would take effect—the ad is running on channels nationwide.
Critics decried the ad as nothing more than propaganda.
“This isn’t about an issue that’s really happening in South Dakota,” said Roger Tellinghuisen, representing leading LGBT activist group the Human Rights Campaign. “It’s a political statement—that’s all it is.”
Noem’s warming to the issue shows the growing clout of social conservatives in the GOP as grassroots outrage promises a repeat of Barack Obama’s 2010 midterm, when the Tea Party movement helped deliver a “shellacking” to the radical leftist administration.
Jon Schweppe, the director of policy at the social conservative group, American Principles Project, praised Noem’s bill after last year slamming her for effectively killing the legislation.
“To see her now coming out with a stronger bill, to see her championing this issue and making it her priority, we haven’t really seen anything like that before with Republicans,” he said. “I think it’s a significant moment.”
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press