Supporters of transgender rights rallied in cities around South Dakota on Saturday, including at the state Capitol, one day after the South Dakota Senate State Affairs Committee voted 8-1 to pass the contentious Senate Bill 46.

SB 46, introduced by the Committee on State Affairs at the request of Gov. Kristi Noem’s office, requires that participants in women’s sports sanctioned by accredited South Dakota schools and institutions of higher education be “female athletes, based on their biological sex.” The bill defines “biological sex” as “either female or male as described by the sex listed on the athlete’s official birth certificate issued at or near the time of the athlete’s birth.” The bill is titled “protect fairness in women’s sports” on the state Legislative Research Council website.

Senate Minority Leader Troy Heinert, D-Dist. 26, cast the lone vote against SB 46’s passage on Friday.

“It could do a lot of harm to transgender youth and students and it could also lead to harm to other minorities as well,” Pierre Area Center for Equality President Joshua Penrod said about SB 46 at Saturday’s rally. “If they get away with this, who knows what else they could get away with.”

At Saturday’s Capitol rally, PACE board secretary and volunteer Bree Oatman said her organization currently has its eyes on House Bills 1005 and 1006 as well as SB 46 as of the end of the Legislature’s first week in session.

HB 1005, a “bathroom bill” introduced by state Rep. Fred Deutsch, R-Dist. 4, would restrict use of “multi-occupancy” rooms in public schools by sex assigned at birth and states that a student has cause for action against their school district if they encounter “a member of the opposite sex in a multi-occupancy shower room, changing room, or rest room, which... (i)s in a public school building; and... (h)as been designated for exclusive use by members of the student’s sex.” HB 1005 defines “sex” as “a person’s immutable, biological sex, as determined by the person’s genetics and anatomy existing at the time of the person’s birth.”

Deutsch’s bill was referred to the House State Affairs Committee on Jan. 12 but does not have an assigned hearing date as of Monday.

HB 1006, a separate “fairness in women’s sports” bill introduced by state Rep. Rhonda Milstead, R-Dist. 9, is yet to be referred to committee.

Among the eight state senators to vote in SB 46’s favor on Friday was state Sen. Mary Duvall, R-Dist. 24. Oatman said Duvall, who last year voted against the Senate’s passage of House Bill 1217, another women’s sports bill, is likely feeling pressure to vote conservatively this session due to former Pierre City Commissioner Jim Mehlhaff’s intention to run for her seat in this year’s election

Mehlhaff tossed his hat into the ring for the District 24 Senate seat on Jan. 4 and told the Capital Journal he intends to run as a Republican.

“She’s already being primaried, basically, by another Republican who’s claiming that he wants to bring ‘a conservative voice’ to District 24, which is going to put pressure on Senator Duvall to vote in a more conservative way,” Oatman said on Saturday. “And yesterday she voted ‘yes’ to move the bill to the floor and last year she voted ‘no.’”

Mehlhaff, who served on the Pierre City Commission from 2009 to 2021, wrote in a press release announcing his candidacy that he believes “District 24 needs a conservative voice in the Senate, and that I am the candidate who can provide that conservative voice.”

Duvall told the Capital Journal on Monday that she believed SB 46 contains multiple improvements over 2021’s HB 1217, which she did not think was “very well done.”

For one thing, Duvall said, SB 46 does not contain HB 1217’s provision requiring an annual written verification of an athlete’s age, “biological sex, as ascertained at or before birth in accordance with the student’s genetics and reproductive biology” and that the athlete has not taken performance-enhancing drugs.

“I think this really does help focus the issue on making sure that girls’ sports are fair,” Duvall said.

Duvall also said she hasn’t felt any pressure to vote one way or another with Mehlhaff’s entrance into the District 24 Senate campaign.

“We haven’t gotten into the campaign much,” Duvall said. She added that she did get “an earful” from parents of female athletes over her HB 1217 vote last session.

Oatman said that, given recent polls, she thinks it would be a “mistake” to assume that all of the Legislature’s Republicans feel the same way about transgender rights.

“But, again, their governor is up for re-election this year, too, and I feel like there’s going to be a whole lot more pressure on them to fall in line and do what she wants,” Oatman said.

Michael Woodel | 605-224-7301 ext. 131

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