After initially declining to talk with transgender advocates, Governor Dennis Daugaard now wants to set up a meeting. The Center for Equality invited him to talk before he makes a decision on House Bill 1008. The legislation would restrict transgender students from using bathrooms that don't match their biological sex.
The Center sent him a letter in response to a statement he made about never having met a transgender person, at least that he is "aware of." On Wednesday morning, the Center received this message from the governor's office.
"I'm calling you in regards to the email you sent the governor in regards to HB 1008 and that you would like to sit down with the governor in regards to that. They did review the governor's calendar, and unfortunately the governor does not allow him additional time out of his day to visit with you in regards to it," a staff member said. In that same message, she also said the governor is reviewing the letter before signing or vetoing HB 1008.
By Wednesday afternoon, Daugaard seemingly changed his mind. According to his spokesperson, Kelsey Pritchard, the first call, which declined the meeting was due to an office miscommunication. Pritchard says the decision to decline the meeting was made before the Senate passed HB 1008 on Tuesday.
Since the bill is up for a decision from the governor, she says the timing makes sense for a meeting now. Daugaard will also meet with the bill's sponsors for input.
The news is a relief for Center for Equality Operations Director Ashley Joubert-Gaddis. After she listened to the first voice message, she called the governor's office back.
"I said that I do understand that, but we are obviously very disappointed that he doesn't just have ten minutes to speak with us," Joubert-Gaddis said.
Hours later, a staff member called back wanting to clear some time for a meeting. Joubert-Gaddis, a transgender rights advocate, worries that if 1008 becomes law, it could hurt students and take away local control from educators.
"I think it puts school leaders in terrible positions," Joubert-Gaddis said.
"This isn't a new issue for us," Brian Maher, Sioux Falls School District Superintendent, said.
When it comes to the bathroom and locker room topic, Maher says the district already works with transgender students on a case-by-case basis. There is no direct policy about bathrooms and locker rooms for students who identify as transgender. However, the district's non-discriminations policy speaks to gender and sexual orientation. The policy states the district prohibits discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation, and allows school leaders the discretion to make what it calls "modifications" to "accommodate" individuals.
"We really hang our hat on two fronts. One, we want our kids to be safe. Two, we want the environment we provide to be discriminatory-free," Maher said.
Maher says 1008 will not stop the district from trying to keep all students as safe as possible. However, Maher says if schools have to follow a state law about where students can go to the bathroom, districts could be in danger of violating federal anti-discrimination laws.
"It appears as though there is going to be the feds here and the state here and we're going to be in between," Maher said.
For now, everyone is waiting to find out whether Governor Daugaard will sign or veto HB 1008.
Review how lawmakers voted in this story
Now that the House and Senate have both approved it, it now must be signed by the presiding officer of each. There is no way to tell just how long that take, but looking at past bills, it could take two days. That means the bill would arrive on Daugaard's desk on Friday. Once that happens, Daugaard will have five legislative days to sign or veto the bill. Since lawmakers have next Friday off, we may have to wait until Monday, February 29 to find out the governor's decision.
Here is one more interesting thing to note: According to the Legislative handbook, the governor does not have to sign it for the bill to become law. If he does not veto it in five days, it will automatically become law.
Joubert-Gaddis hopes the meeting with him makes an impact.
"We are fighting a battle, but that battle is equality. And I think that he does owe it to us to just hear some voices," Joubert-Gaddis said.
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