PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The amendment that’s been added to the governor’s sports-fairness legislation would put South Dakota’s attorney general in charge of defending a K-12 school or state-governed higher education institution at no cost, in the event that a student makes a legal claim that the student was ruled ineligible for gender reasons from participating on a female-only team.

That’s according to Senator Mary Duvall, R-Pierre, the state lawmaker who made the motion to put the amendment on the bill, and Senator Casey Crabtree, R-Madison, who seconded her motion. The Senate State Affairs Committee adopted the changes Friday before endorsing the bill 8-1. The amendment came from the governor’s office, according to Duvall.

Last year, the same committee voted 6-3 against somewhat similar legislation that Representative Rhonda Milstead, R-Hartford, and Senator Maggie Sutton, R-Sioux Falls, brought. Duvall, who wasn’t on the committee last year, voted against the Milstead-Sutton bill three times: First, when the Senate as a whole chose to order the committee to release the bill, a process known as a ‘smoke-out’; again, when the Senate voted to put the bill on its calendar for debate; and finally, when the Senate passed it 20-15.

Governor Kristi Noem issued a style-and-form veto seeking changes to the Milstead-Sutton bill last year. The South Dakota Constitution allows a style-and-form veto but doesn’t set boundaries aside from word ‘errors.’ House Speaker Spencer Gosch, R-Glenham, said Noem’s changes were more than had traditionally been requested in style-and-form vetoes. The House of Representatives strongly refused Noem’s suggestions but then failed to get enough supporters for the two-thirds majority needed for a veto override — and in effect killed the bill.

This year, a new version of the Milstead-Sutton bill awaits its first hearing in the House and hasn’t been assigned to a committee or scheduled, while Noem’s bill seems to be steaming ahead. KELOLAND News asked Duvall, whom Noem’s re-election campaign has publicly identified as an official supporter and who faces a primary challenge from Jim Mehlhaff of Pierre, why she took a different position this year.

“My first two ‘no’ votes last year on HB1217 were procedural. As a rule, I trust the work of our Senate committees and did not support any of the smoke-out attempts last year or the ensuing votes to calendar the bill,” she said.

“My third ‘no’ vote is because I was not convinced the bill was particularly well-written for South Dakota’s needs.  I believe SB46 does a better job of focusing on ensuring fairness in women’s sports,” Duvall continued.

Crabtree, who also was on the list of Noem endorsers, voted for the Milstead-Sutton legislation in committee last year, voted against the smoke-out and putting it on the Senate calendar, and ultimately voted for its passage.

He said Sunday night that he supported the governor’s current amendment “because it states that the attorney general’s office provides for legal representation and the state assumes financial responsibility in the event of a legal challenge. In its original form that would’ve been the responsibility of the school district or their employees. It was good to see that amendment receive such strong support.”

Crabtree said, “Like the vast majority of South Dakotans I believe that only girls should play girls sports. The governor’s bill incorporates key points from similar bills that have recently passed in nine other states along with input from other leaders and organizations. This legislation simply ensures a level playing field in female athletics, without the technical problems that were identified in last year’s bill.”

Milstead, Sutton and Gosch weren’t on the list of legislators that Noem’s campaign released as having endorsed her as of last weekend. Altogether the Noem endorsements included 23 of 32 Republican senators and 35 of 62 Republican representatives.

The Associated School Boards of South Dakota, the School Administrators of South Dakota and the South Dakota High School Activities Association all opposed Noem’s bill in its original form. The state-provided defense wasn’t part of Noem’s changes offered in the veto message last year. It originally wasn’t in either bill this year.

Noem, who faces a challenge in the Republican primary from Representative Steve Haugaard, R-Sioux Falls, a former speaker of the House, began airing national TV ads for her female-sports bill last week. The full Senate could take it up as early as Wednesday.

Noem, in a weekend column, said, “We will establish a framework that will allow parents to challenge schools that allow students who are born male at birth to compete in girls’ sports. The legislation I am proposing includes the ability for a parent to hold schools accountable in court. Parents will be able to sue to play, not to pay. This is not about creating financial windfalls — it is about ensuring parents have the tools to fight for their daughter’s ability to compete on a level playing field.”