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South Dakota's Transgender Locker Room Bill Withdrawn

by James Nord .
Tuesday Jan 31, 2017

A bill that would have restricted which locker rooms South Dakota transgender students could use was scuttled Tuesday, for now averting another bitter fight in the Capitol over the regulation of school facilities.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Jim Bolin said right before the bill's first hearing that its author wanted it withdrawn. The sponsor, Sen. Lance Russell, didn't immediately respond to telephone calls for comment about the measure, which required public school students to use the locker rooms, shower rooms and changing facilities matching their gender at birth.

Under the bill, schools would have been allowed to provide alternative accommodations, such as single-occupancy restrooms. The proposal was similar to one Gov. Dennis Daugaard vetoed last year, and the Republican had said he would veto this bill too if it reached his desk.

Dale Bartscher, who lobbies for a conservative group that supported the bill, said the governor's opposition was a "strong factor" in its withdrawal. Conversations are ongoing about whether another bill will be introduced this year or next year, said Bartscher, of Family Heritage Alliance Action.

Daugaard said North Carolina has experienced major problems since enacting a similar law. Approved in 2016, it's best known for requiring transgender people to use restrooms in many public buildings that correspond to the sex on their birth certificates. As a result of that bill, corporations, entertainers and high-profile sporting events have shunned North Carolina to avoid being seen as endorsing discrimination.

South Dakota is among at least 11 states where similar bills had been pre-filed or introduced for the 2017 legislative session, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In Texas, Republican House Speaker Joe Straus has said a bathroom bill would be bad for business, even as GOP Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick champions it. A similar proposal was dead on arrival in Washington's Democrat-controlled House, while bills in Missouri haven't yet been scheduled for a committee hearing.

In South Dakota, Bolin said lawmakers have the option to introduce another bill this session, but that it "would be an extremely unwise decision."

The abrupt announcement that it would be pulled was surprising to foes, who said they hoped the issue had been laid to rest. Jessie Lamphere, an 18-year-old transgender high school student from Sturgis, said he was relieved.

"I just want them to know that transgender boys are boys, and transgender girls are girls, and that's just who we are," Lamphere said. "We all want privacy and safety in locker rooms, and we're not in there to harm anyone. We're just in there to get dressed and get out."

Bartscher said the measure may live on in further legislation, or at the ballot box, "but this issue is not going to go away."

A ballot measure that would require transgender students to use bathrooms corresponding with their sex at birth may go before voters in 2018. Sponsor Jack Heyd of Box Elder has said he wants to protect children and ensure that students have privacy.

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