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South Dakota's trans health bill is effectively dead, opponents say

The bill sought to block physicians from providing puberty blockers and gender confirmation surgery to transgender children under 16.
Image: LGBTQ advocates protest outside of the South Dakota Capitol before a bill banning gender-affirming care for trans youth was blocked.
LGBTQ advocates protest outside of the South Dakota Capitol before a bill banning gender-affirming care for trans youth was blocked.Greg Latza / ACLU

The South Dakota Legislature on Monday effectively killed House Bill 1057, which sought to block physicians in the state from providing puberty blockers and gender confirmation surgery to transgender children under 16.

By a 5-2 vote, the state Senate Health and Human Services Committee sent the bill “to the 41st day,” which means a bill has been effectively killed because the state’s part-time Legislature has only 40 working days.

"It's gone," Quinncy Parke, 17, who is transgender and testified against the bill, told The Associated Press. “I don’t have to worry about it until next year.”

The ACLU of South Dakota, which had led the fight against the bill, cheered its apparent demise.

“Though supporters claimed House Bill 1057 was aimed at protecting vulnerable youth, it was clearly fueled by a fear and misunderstanding of transgender South Dakotans,” said Libby Skarin, policy director for the group. “It’s time we stop these attacks and the very real harm they cause to transgender youth across our state. Let this be a signal to the South Dakota Legislature that discrimination against a marginalized group is a distraction from the needs of the state and hurts us all.”

Skarin’s colleague at the ACLU, Chase Strangio, deputy director of the national organization’s Transgender Justice division, warned that “nothing is ever dead in a legislative session.”

“Stay vigilant on HB 1057,” Strangio wrote in a tweet. “We celebrate and we thank those who fought with us and we stay vigilant so they don’t try to bring it back.”

Indeed, there is a remote chance the bill could be revived via byzantine legislative rules, according to experts.

Mike Card, a political science professor at the University of South Dakota, said there was a small chance the bill could be revived in a legislative procedure called “a smoke out” — whereby one third of House legislators vote to force the committee to assign the bill a recommendation of “do pass” or “do not pass."

Even so, Card added, given the 5-2 vote on Monday, a smoke out would not likely result in a majority of the committee changing their vote.

Card said that, in his view, state Democrats effectively skewered the “open for business” mantra used by Republican Gov. Kristi Noem in her State of the State address by raising the potential business impact on the state if the bill passed.

When House Bill 2 passed in North Carolina in 2016, the so-called bathroom bill that banned transgender people from using sex-segregated public facilities that align with their gender identity, the state faced a business boycott. When the bill was repealed in March 2017, an Associated Press analysis found that a boycott would cost the state nearly $4 billion in lost business and revenues.

And this month, over 140 businesses signed an open letter decrying anti-LGBTQ bills pending in Tennessee’s Legislature, saying they would be bad for business. Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, recently signed one of those bills into law.

Before Monday's vote in South Dakota, the bill's backers amended it to drop criminal charges for doctors who provide gender confirmation treatments, but the bill still would have allowed children to sue if they later regretted the treatments, according to the AP.

Health experts were among those who applauded the effective death of HB 1057 in South Dakota. Jack Turban, a resident psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School who studies the mental health of transgender people, said the bill was “a chilling example of politicians trying to politicize standard medical care.”

“I am thrilled to see that legislators sided with The American Academy of Pediatrics, The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, and The Endocrine Society instead of with radical politicians,” Turban said.

Turban recently wrote a study that found transgender people who wanted and had access to puberty blockers during their youth had a statistically significant lower rate of suicidal thoughts, NBC News reported.

Turban and others, including those at The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ youth suicide prevention organization, urged lawmakers in other states — like South Carolina, Florida, Missouri, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky and New Hampshire — to reject similar bills

“We are hopeful that any state considering similar bills will join South Dakota in setting aside these attacks on trans youth to focus on real priorities to advance the health and wellbeing of all,” Sam Brinton, the organization’s head of advocacy and government affairs, said in a statement shared with NBC News.

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