A measure known as the transgender bathroom bill is on its way to the governor’s desk. House Bill 1008 survived the State Senate on Tuesday. Fifteen lawmakers in that chamber oppose the legislation, but 20 support it.
Supporters of the so-called transgender bathroom bill say it protects student privacy by securing restrooms for opposite biological sexes. The bill determines sex based on anatomy and birth certificates. State Senator Brock Greenfield supports the measure.
"We’re talking about our youth co-mingling in bathrooms: biological males and biological females," Greenfield says." And a lot of my constituents approached me even before the session last year and said that that just doesn’t jibe with them, that they feel that that’s inappropriate."
Greenfield says the legislation allows transgender students to use locker rooms and restrooms based on their biology or they can seek reasonable accommodations from a school.
State Senator Craig Tieszen says the bill causes pain in the transgender community, and he wonders whether the measure is necessary.
"Are there transgenders who are causing fear among South Dakota students? Are there transgenders who our terrorizing in our South Dakota schools? Are we jeopardizing our students in our schools? And I haven’t seen or heard evidence of that," Tieszen says.
Opponents of House Bill 1008 say the bill takes control away from local schools. Supporters say education leaders want a consistent policy.
During debate on the bill, State Senate President Matt Michels tried to settle passions in the Statehouse.
"Okay, before I call on anybody else, everybody take a cleansing breath – deep," Michels says. "Before you say anything more, think about it."
Michels made the comments after lawmakers waded into personal territory. State Senator Deb Peters says she’s talked about transgender students with her sons’ high school teammates and friends.
"This isn’t an issue that’s an issue in the high school. Kids don’t see this as a hot topic in their school," Peters says.
After her comments, State Senator David Omdahl engaged Peters about her family.
OMDAHL: Of what I understand, you have boys? You don’t have any girls? Is that correct?
MICHELS: Senator Peters, do you care to answer the question?
PETERS: It’s pretty evident, but, obviously, yes, I only have boys.
OMDHAL: I guess my point is, I’ve got a nine-year-old granddaughter. She’s an innocent girl. And girls – I’ve talked to teachers about this – girls are conscious of their little bodies. They don’t even like to shower together. So I ask you, please, please support this bill. These young, innocent girls don’t need to be exposed to the male anatomy at that age. Thank you.
After that exchange, State Senator Bernie Hunhoff weighed in that transgender students are not perverted or dangerous.
"But it suggests that that these are kids that are out there preying on other kids, and that just needs to be corrected for the record," Hunhoff says.
Prime sponsor State Senator Brock Greenfield ended debate by saying he hopes some comments made in the heat of the moment don’t reflect what lawmakers tried to communicate on the transgender bathroom bill.
A majority of the State Senate favors the transgender bathroom bill, and it moves to the governor’s desk. Governor Dennis Daugaard said less than one week ago that House Bill 1008 seems to accommodate both sides. He says he wants to review testimony before he puts pen to paper.