- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 20, 2021

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has sent back to the legislature a hotly contested bill on transgender athletes, asking lawmakers for changes and startling those who view the Republican as an ally in their fight to keep biological males out of women’s sports.

The Republican Noem issued a “style-and-form” veto of House Bill 1217, suggesting four changes over concerns that “this bill’s vague and overly broad language could have significant unintended consequences.”

“I support this legislation and hope that House Bill 1217, with the changes I am proposing, becomes law,” she said in a Friday statement.

Her decision to seek revisions came as a surprise after her March 8 tweet saying that she was “excited to sign this bill very soon,” prompting American Principles Project President Terry Schilling to accuse her of “break[ing] her word on this critical legislation.”

“By standing with Joe Biden and the radical left against protecting women’s sports, Noem has irreparably damaged her standing with both her own constituents as well as Americans nationally who have been looking to her for bold leadership,” he said. “This betrayal will have political consequences.”

The proposed changes include striking a section requiring schools to collect verification forms each year from student-athletes on their age, biological sex and use of performance-enhancing drugs, saying it would create an “unworkable administrative burden,” and remove collegiate athletics from the legislation entirely.

“South Dakota has shown that our student athletes can compete with anyone in the country, but competing on the national stage means compliance with the national governing bodies that oversee collegiate athletics,” Ms. Noem said. “While I certainly do not always agree with the actions these sanctioning bodies take, I understand that collegiate athletics requires such a system – a fifty-state patchwork is not workable.”

Her approach was guaranteed to make nobody happy: not the ACLU, which has called for her to veto the bill, and not the legislation’s supporters, including Save Women’s Sports and Alliance Defending Freedom, who accused her of bowing to pressure from the NCAA and woke corporations.

“One of the changes? Delete collegiate level protections,” tweeted Save Women’s Sports. “Women were looking to you @govkristinoem to stand up for us. Instead, you are telling some female athletes they don’t matter. Why would girls even start in sports if competing against males is in their future?”

ADF general counsel Kristen Waggoner argued that the bill “doesn’t conflict with any national sports policy and is fully consistent with the intent of Title IX,” and urged her to sign the bill as offered.

“Her misguided attempt to play politics and placate national corporate interests like Amazon is not what we would have expected from this governor,” said Ms. Waggoner. “It’s surprising that Gov. Noem, who once stood up to special interests and corporate woke-ism, has now bowed to them.”

The state legislature is expected to review the proposed changes when it reconvenes March 29, but so far the bill’s supporters appear to be less than enthusiastic.

Republican state Sen. Maggie Sutton, the bill’s lead Senate sponsor, was frustrated by the governor’s proposals, saying they would “substantially change the content of the bill.”

“The legality was removed, which leaves the bill with a very weak authority,” Ms. Sutton told KELO-TV. “Removing the collegiate is simply saying that biology matters in high school, but not in college.”

The legislature could approve the changes with simple majorities in both houses or seek to override a gubernatorial veto with two-thirds majorities. The bill passed the House by 50-17, enough to override a veto, but by 20-15 in the Senate, a few votes shy of a super-majority.

South Dakota business groups have urged the governor to veto the bill, citing threats of an economic boycott led by LGBTQ groups, while the ACLU has called on the measure’s foes to send the message that “trans girls are girls and they belong in South Dakota.”

Mr. Schilling said that the governor’s office has “frozen out advocates of HB 1217 and instead taken advice from the bill’s most vocal critics, which include the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and the South Dakota Board of Regents.”

Two states — Idaho and Mississippi — have approved similar bills. A federal judge placed the Idaho bill on hold in August pending the outcome of a legal challenge.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed March 11 the Mississippi Fairness Act, which is scheduled to take effect July 1 unless stayed by a court. About two dozen states have introduced similar measures this year.

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