South Dakota’s legislative effort to impact transgender rights among school students isn’t dead yet.
House Bill 1217, which was rejected by a Senate committee last week when it was sent to the limbo of the “41st day” of the 40-day session, was revived last Thursday by the South Dakota Senate in a unique procedure called a “smoke-out.” On Monday, it approved the measure, and Gov. Kristi Noem has promised to sign it.
However, that resurrection doesn’t change the dubious merits of the measure, described as “an act to promote the fairness in women’s sports.”
As one lawmaker put it recently, it seems to be a solution in search of a problem.
HB1217 would require student-athletes to compete in a sport based on their “biological sex” and would require, according to the Forum News Services, “a written report to be filed on each student athlete attesting to their birth sex.”
The measure would also overrule the current guidelines of the South Dakota High School Activities Association (SDHSAA), which has set a policy allowing transgender athletes to compete in sanctioned events only with the association’s approval.
This situation is a very rare instance in South Dakota. SDHSAA Executive Director Dan Swartos told a House committee earlier in the season that, in the past 10 years, only one child had received approval from the association to participate in competitive sports.
Thus, the issue is: 1) rare; and 2) already addressed by the SDHSAA.
Meanwhile, requiring athletes to file written reports on their birth sex seems both cumbersome and disturbing. Rep. Ryan Cwach of Yankton feared it would become a bureaucratic paper glut while trying to coordinate what could be described as a genital registry for athletes. This would seem to be something that is beyond the purview of state government, particularly one that prides itself in being small and unobtrusive. And to reiterate, it would all be done for an issue that is rare and already handled by the activities association.
More likely, HB1217 is about more than athletic competition or defending the sanctity of women’s sports.
South Dakota is one of more than 20 states in which bills targeting transgender rights have been filed this year, according to NBC News. Also, there was an unsuccessful attempt made Saturday in the U.S. Senate to insert an amendment in the COVID-19 relief bill that would bar funding to schools that allow transgender athletes to participate in women’s sports. Taken together, all this appears to be a coordinated effort to promote a social issue for political purposes by targeting a very small minority of people — people who fall outside the norm, people who “aren’t like the rest of us,” if you will.
South Dakota’s measure is also problematic on other fronts. It’s quite possible the measure couldn’t withstand a federal court challenge. Also, such a measure might create an economic backlash from the NCAA, for instance, which may hurt this state in hosting events like the Summit League basketball tournaments and other sanctioned activities.
Again, this is an issue that does not happen often in South Dakota, and policies are already in place to address it. Doing anything beyond is hurtful grandstanding that could do more harm and have more destructive consequences than any good that could possibly come from it.