Milstead was told governor planned to veto ‘fairness’ bill but says she never heard back

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The prime sponsor of legislation that would bar anyone born a male from playing girls’ and women’s sports for South Dakota K-12 schools and public universities said Tuesday she had received word in advance that Governor Kristi Noem would issue a style and form veto.

But Representative Rhonda Milstead said the governor’s staff member who telephoned her Thursday evening promised that someone would get back to her before a public announcement. Instead, Milstead found out through news reports late Friday afternoon.

Said Milstead, “It really does not matter at this point except to say that there is a lack of conversation and therefore balance between the executive branch and the legislative branch. I find much irony in that the way the governor keeps pushing civics education. Students should be able to have confidence and pride in the process by seeing it at work.”

Milstead declined to tell KELOLAND News the caller’s name but said the message was the governor’s office was working on some style and form changes to HB 1217. “They would let me see before they made any announcement. Friday, they made the announcement without sharing a copy,” she said.

Communications director Ian Fury responded, “The announcement was sent to all legislators at the same time it was sent to the media. Prior to the announcement, Governor Noem’s team spent hours communicating with Representative Milstead and the bill’s sponsors on HB 1217.

“She knew what the changes would be,” Fury continued. “She was invited to meet with Governor Noem privately prior to Monday’s press conference, though she had to cancel the in-person meeting in Sioux Falls for an understandable personal reason.”

Noem tweeted two weeks ago she was excited to sign HB 1217 into law minutes after the Senate had given final approval. But her news release Friday called for removing public universities from the ban and eliminating or rewriting other sections. Legislators return to the Capitol in Pierre on Monday, March 29, to handle the veto and any others she might issue.

Noem held a news conference Monday in Sioux Falls to better explain the veto, saying lawyers told her that South Dakota had a “low” chance of succeeding in a lawsuit against the NCAA. She said the legislation presented an invitation for lawsuits from athletes who felt they had been aggrieved.

She also announced formation of a new group, Defend Title IX Now! Its website was registered Sunday. Noem also appeared Monday evening on Tucker Carlson Tonight, a Fox News program.

Neither Noem nor her staff testified either way on HB 1217 during its House and Senate committee hearings. One of her top aides was in the Senate hearing room to testify on several other bills.

Representative Jon Hansen posted a Facebook message Tuesday that said in part. “I think we ought to pass this bill and if a lawsuit comes I think we ought to go and we ought to win it.”

Hansen also suggested that lawmakers should look at stripping the South Dakota High School Activities Association of its authority and put sports under the state Department of Education. “Because this just needs to stop,” he said.

The activities association was among the organizations that opposed 1217. The association board adopted a procedure in 2013 for reaching decisions on whether transgender athletes can compete in the sports of the gender they identify as. One person has used it.

While the governor announced the style and form veto Friday afternoon, her letter explaining what she wants done was posted Tuesday afternoon on the Legislative Research Council official website.

Reed Holwegner is director for the LRC, whose 25 full-time employees serve as professional administrative staff for the 105 lawmakers. Said Holwegner, “Prior to updating the Legislature’s Bill Status Report, there needs to be official correspondence from the Governor’s Office to the LRC regarding the action taken on legislation. After we have received the communication, we will post the information as soon as possible.”

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