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PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — The South Dakota Senate on Wednesday passed a bill proposed by Republican Gov. Kristi Noem that would ban transgender women and girls from participating in school sports leagues that match their gender identity.
The bill cleared the Senate with wide support from Republicans. It will next proceed to the House, where Republican lawmakers have introduced their own legislation with the same ban but a sharper enforcement mechanism.
The governor has turned the ban on transgender athletes from women’s sports into a campaign issue, launching a nationwide ad touting her work on the issue. Last year, a bill that would have created a similar ban caused a falling out between social conservatives and Noem, who issued a “style and form veto” against a bill she criticized as flawed
Opponents have decried the latest proposal as an effort to bully children for the sake of a political cause that has not been an issue in South Dakota.
“Passage of this bill would directly hurt children,” Jennifer Phalen, who has a transgender daughter, told lawmakers during a committee hearing on the bill last week. “It would directly hurt my daughter and take away her freedom to participate in activities with her peers.”.
On the Senate floor Wednesday, Republicans latched onto the cause of equal opportunity for women as they argued that transgender athletes would have a competitive advantage in female sports.
“In life or sports, the playing field has rarely been even for males versus females,” said Republican Sen. Jessica Castleberry, adding that male athletes are bigger, faster and stronger than female athletes.
The high school activities association evaluates applications from transgender athletes on a case-by-case basis and has only once allowed a trans girl to play in a girls’ league. She did not spoil the competition, the athletics association has said.
Senators acknowledged that the proposed law would put the state's public schools at legal risk and amended the bill to reduce the legal punishments that students can seek if the law were to be violated. Several Republicans joined arguments against the bill, saying it would toss the state into an unnecessary and costly legal fight.
“We're squandering the taxpayers' money to advance an ideological crusade,” said Democratic Sen. Reynold Nesiba.
If the bill passes the Legislature, South Dakota could be the 10th Republican-dominated state to adopt such a ban on transgender women or girls. In two of those states — Idaho and West Virginia — the laws have been halted by federal judges. The U.S. Department of Justice has challenged bans in other states, slamming them as violations of federal law.