PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — As she plans to sign one of the most controversial bills from the 2021 legislative session, Gov. Kristi Noem was steadfast in defending House Bill 1217 Thursday morning.
The controversial bill, called “an act to promote continued fairness in women’s sports” was passed in the House by a 50-17 margin then failed in a Senate committee 6-3 before being “smoked out” on the Senate floor 18-16 and passing the Senate 20-15 on Monday. That’s when Gov. Noem tweeted she was “excited” to sign HB 1217 and celebrate “defending women’s sports.”
Questioned repeatedly about HB 1217 in Thursday’s final weekly legislative media briefing, Gov. Noem stressed she’s still evaluating and “examining” the bill. Asked specifically about potential fallout for South Dakota being able to host future NCAA events, Noem said she’s heard from individuals on HB 1217, but not from businesses or the NCAA specifically.
Gov. Noem said specifically she doesn’t deny transgender women exist, but continued to stress HB 1217 focuses on protecting female sports.
“It’ll ensure girls participate in girls sports,” Noem said. “This bill isn’t about transgender. It’s about girls fairness in girls sports.”
Opponents of HB 1217 have directly pointed out HB 1217, while not mentioning transgender women specifically, is mainly targeted at discriminating against them. The bill specifically requires anyone looking to participating in sanctioned sports to provide an annual signed waiver confirming a student’s age and the student’s “biological sex, as ascertained at or before birth in accordance with the student’s genetics and reproductive biology.”
Idaho is the only other state which has enacted a law impacting trans students’ sports participation. The measure passed in 2020 is being blocked by a court ruling. If Gov. Noem signs HB 1217 into law, organizations in South Dakota have said it’ll likely become contested in court.
Before she signs the bill, a group protesting the bill planned an organized protest in front of the Governor’s mansion in Pierre. Asked about the specific protest, Gov. Noem said she would not be engaging with the group. She said she’s open to meeting with any transgender groups in the future about legislation.
In the Senate leadership news conference, Majority Leader Gary Cammack (R-Union Center) said he doesn’t believe there’ll be any serious consequences. Sen. Cammack said he doesn’t see any issues in South Dakota, he said national judgements aren’t for lawmakers to decide.
Democratic Minority Leader Troy Heinert (D-Mission) specifically said he expects to see some sort of fallout if HB 1217 is signed into law.
Sen. Reynold Nesiba (D-Sioux Falls) specifically cited a recent letter signed by more than 500 current college athletes, including a cross country runner from the University of South Dakota, sent to the NCAA calling for the organization to uphold a anti-discrimination policy and “only operate NCAA championships and events only in states that promote an inclusive atmosphere.”
Nesiba called HB 1217 “the most frustrating bill” of the 2021 session.
Dan Swartos, Executive Director of the South Dakota High School Activities Association, was one of the people who provided opposition testimony when the bill was heard in committee. The current SDHSAA policy on transgender athletes participating in South Dakota is a waiver process which involves documentation by schools that verify that a student’s transition is not being done to gain a competitive advantage.
This entails verifications of accommodations made for the student, as well as testimony from the student’s physicians, family and friends that verifies that they are working to transition.