Gov. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., returned a bill designed to prevent biological men from competing in biological women's sports back to her state legislature for modification.
Noem issued a release Friday saying she was exercising her power to make style and form changes to the bill, which would require athletes participating in South Dakota-sanctioned sports to compete in events aligned with their sex determined at birth, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader reported.
The first-term governor does not want the new law extended to college sports due to concerns the state could suffer economically by potentially not hosting events such as the NCAA championships, which include the profitable men’s basketball tournament.
"Unfortunately, as I have studied this legislation and conferred with legal experts over the past several days, I have become concerned that this bill’s vague and overly broad language could have significant unintended consequences," Noem said in a letter to media and legislators.
House Bill 1217, sponsored by Sioux Falls-area lawmakers Rep. Rhonda Milstead, R, and Sen. Maggie Sutton, R, would have applied to all K-12 and collegiate athletic events held in South Dakota.
Under the bill, students who want to join athletic programs would need to submit statements verifying their age, biological sex, and that they haven't taken steroids in the 12 months preceding their competition. The statement must be signed by their parent(s) if they are under 18.
Noem actually expressed excitement to sign the bill into law after it passed the Senate in early March. But earlier this week, the governor told the Argus Leader she became aware of unforeseen issues with the bill.
In her statement on Friday, Noem said she determined more precise language was needed after consulting with attorneys, and considering the emotional challenges facing young people.
"Overall, these style and form clarifications protect women sports while also showing empathy for youths struggling with what they understand to be their gender identity," Noem wrote. "But showing empathy does not mean a biologically-female-at birth woman should face an unbalanced playing field that effectively undermines the advances made by women and for women since the implementation of Title IX in 1972."
The style-and-form recommendations by a governor require a simple majority of the legislature to affirm the changes. It's short of the state's top official simply vetoing the bill.
Milstead, who spoke about "fairness in women's sports" during last month's Conservative Political Action Conference, was not happy about Noem's decision. Not only did the state representative disagree the bill needed to be modified, Milstead said the use of a style-and-form "veto" was inappropriate because its used typically to fix typos and clerical errors.
"Legislators are the ones who makes the laws and the governor signs them," Milstead said. "She’s gutting the bill and writing a new law and that’s not her job."
High school athletic groups in the state have said a law governing gender and sports acvity is not necessary because it affects few, if any, students.
Dan Swartos, executive director of the South Dakota High School Activities Association, said the SDHSAA remained in opposition to the bill as it affected a "right now, zero" students directly at the K-12 level.
"Our policy has worked," Swartos said of the current SDHSAA policy. "At the end of the day, we have a legislative process and you have to respect that process when you agree and when you disagree. We will adjust our policies accordingly and move forward."
Swartos also said he believes the bill's "concept" will be settled within the court system, which is "where it’s been headed for a while."
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