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Bill targeting transgender athlete policy fails in South Dakota

It's the fourth bill critics have labeled anti-transgender that state lawmakers have rejected this session.

PIERRE, S.D. — A South Dakota bill seeking to scrap a policy allowing transgender students to play on the athletic team that matches their gender identity failed Monday in the state House.

The 34-34 vote fell short of the majority needed to send the bill to the Senate. It's the fourth bill critics have labeled anti-transgender that state lawmakers have rejected this session. A Senate panel last month rejected a similar bill targeting the South Dakota High School Activities Association policy.

House Majority Leader Lee Qualm, the bill's sponsor, said the measure was about fair competition.

"South Dakota is breaking no new ground by doing this," Qualm said, noting it was patterned after Texas. "This is all about fair competition. Boys competing against boys, girls competing against girls, based on the birth certificate."

Democratic Rep. Kelly Sullivan urged her colleagues to oppose the bill, saying lawmakers must be focused on work to positively affect South Dakota. Libby Skarin, policy director for the ACLU of South Dakota, said in a statement that all young people should have the chance to play high school sports with their personal dignity respected, and transgender students are no different.

"No one is harmed by allowing transgender people to compete consistent with who they are," Skarin said.

The bill would have required a student's sex to be determined by their birth certificate or a South Dakota High School Activities Association physical exam form.

Association Executive Director Dan Swartos has said a "very small number" of transgender students participate with the exemption.

The association's 2015 policy requires a student and parent to notify their school that the student wants to play on the sports team that matches their gender identity.

The school submits an application and documentation to the association for review by an independent hearing officer who must be a licensed attorney and a member of the State Bar of South Dakota. The student or the student's school can appeal the hearing officer's decision to the association's board of directors for a final decision. The rules say that gender identity can't be used to gain an unfair competitive advantage.

Similar bills to end the policy failed in the 2015 and 2016 sessions.

This year, lawmakers have also rejected measures to limit teaching about gender dysphoria in public schools and allow a parent to refuse consent to health care treatments for a minor child if the parent thought it would induce, confirm or promote the child's belief that their gender identity is different than their sex at birth.

Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel at the Human Rights Campaign, said earlier in February that South Dakota introduced four "anti-trans" bills this year, more than any other state.