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South Dakota’s Republican governor refuses to sign bill banning trans athletes from sports

Gov. Kristi Noem
Gov. Kristi NoemPhoto: Matt AJ/via Wikipedia

South Dakota’s Republican Governor Kristi Noem has refused to sign House Bill 1217, a bill that would ban transgender athletes from playing sports in schools and colleges.

But while her decision might sound surprising—especially since she said she was “excited” to sign the bill just last week—she only opposed the legislation because she thought it shouldn’t ban trans women from college sports. She worried such a ban would cause big-money collegiate sporting organizations, like the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), to avoid holding games and tournaments in the state, The Argus Leader reported.

Related: Wave of bills attacking transgender youth inspires protests all over the U.S.

But instead of vetoing the bill, she has pledged to use a “style and form changes” maneuver that would allow her to return the bill to the legislature with notes of her desired changes. If the legislature complies, she’ll sign the revised law.

One of the bill’s sponsors, Republican. state Rep. Rhonda Milstead, expressed disagreement with Noem’s plan.

“Legislators are the ones who make the laws and the governor signs them,” Milstead told the Leader. “She’s gutting the bill and writing a new law, and that’s not her job.” Milstead said Noem’s planned maneuver typically fixes typos and clerical errors. If enough Republicans oppose Noem’s maneuver, the bill could die in the legislature.

The legislation would require student-athletes to submit statements verifying both the sex they were assigned at birth and a non-use of steroids over the last year. Similar bills banning trans people from academic sports have been introduced in 14 states, the Human Rights Campaign said.

South Dakota’s bill is part of an “astute political strategy intended to erode the rights of trans people,” the Transformation Project Advocacy Network’s Susan Williams told them.

“If we actually wanted to help women and girls in athletics we’d be demanding equal prioritization of girls and boys sports, safeguarding against assaults perpetrated against high profile athletes and children by trusted adults, and demanding pay equity for coaches of women’s teams,” she said. “We’re not doing any of that.”

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