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Committee endorses Noem bill restricting transgender sports participation

Gov. Kristi Noem delivers her 2022 State of the State address at the Capitol in Pierre.
Gov. Kristi Noem delivers her 2022 State of the State address at the Capitol in Pierre.

A bill that prevents transgender girl athletes from participating in girls’ sports is clearing a significant hurdle in the state Legislature.

It passed a Senate committee where a similar bill failed last year.

It’s a big win for Gov. Kristi Noem, who is championing the issue after vetoing a similar bill last year. Noem recently started airing national ads about the legislation.

Noem has said boys and girls are biologically different and girls’ sports need protection to ensure a level playing field.

Her bill requires students to perform on teams consistent with the sex listed on their original birth certificate. The bill would only affect girls’ sports.

A clause in the legislation says the state will represent and cover the legal fees of any school district or university sued because of the law.

Republican Lee Schoenbeck is the leader of the Senate. He voted in favor of the proposal after voting against a similar bill last year. He says Congress and the NCAA have failed to act.

“And that’s where we’re stuck at is that other people ought to be dealing with it and they aren’t, so we have to,” Schoenbeck says. “I would take issue with those who would describe this as an aggressive act. It isn’t. It’s about as restrained as you could do and try and address an issue that may or may not come to South Dakota. But, it’s certainly on the horizon.”

The South Dakota High School Activities Association has a policy for transgender student athletes. Schoenbeck says the association has done a good job of dealing with the issue.

Schoenbeck declined to answer questions after the bill’s first hearing. The governor’s chief of staff, who testified on the bill, also declined an interview.

ACLU of South Dakota calls the legislation an unconstitutional attack on transgender girls and women that violates the Constitution’s equal protections clause.

The bill passed 8 to 1, with the committee’s lone Democrat voting against it. It now goes to the full Senate.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.