PIERRE, S.D. — A bill to restrict transgender girls from playing sanctioned sports will live another day -- or weekend, at least -- in the South Dakota Legislature.

Using an antiquated maneuver, enough members of the state Senate on Thursday, March 4, voted to "smoke out" House Bill 1217, defeated almost unanimously a day earlier in committee. The action, in a 18-to-16 vote, effectively brings the controversial measure a step closer to a floor Senate vote on the merits.

"I believe there is positive support from the Senate floor," said Sen. Maggie Sutton, R-Sioux Falls. "I think the Senate chamber wants to hear honest testimony."

According to legislative rules, a bill can be "smoked out" with only a third of the Senate in support and must be heard at the next legislative day, which would be Monday, March 7.

The maneuver is not beloved among lawmakers -- often until it is -- as the mechanism allows the full chamber to circumvent committee hearings. Later in the Senate on Thursday, Sen. Art Rusch, R-Vermillion, stood in opposition to a separate effort to legislatively raise from the dead a "stand your ground" gun bill defeated earlier in the day in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he chairs.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live
Newsletter signup for email alerts

Rusch, a former judge, said if the smoke-out process would be so rapidly used, "we should be meeting (in the chamber) twice as long."

The bill, HB 1212, also was successfully smoked out, though by a larger margin. A day earlier, the Senate attempted to smoke out a bill restricting game wardens from entering private property without a search warrant.

The proposed "fairness for girls sports" bill is one of a national effort of bills seeking to prohibit transgender girls -- who measure supporters often refer to as "biological boys" -- from participating in girls sports. The bills' proponents often claim girls are inferior competitors in a range of sports, from basketball to track to swimming, against transgender girls, who were often born male and may retain physical advantages.

The measure has been decried by LGBTQ groups as transphobic, and on Wednesday, the Senate State Affairs Committee voted down the measure, with opponents noting the bill would require a massive bureaucratic effort to document and submit reports on children's sexual identity.

"No matter what the proponents tell you, under the law as decided by the United States Supreme Court, transgender girls are girls, and every woman and girl deserves protection against discrimination. Period," said Dave Zimbek, a lobbyist for the Sioux Falls Sports Authority.

On Thursday, an advocacy manager for the ACLU of South Dakota noted the proposed legislation would "violate federal law."

"Nobody wins when politicians start meddling in people's lives like this," said Jett Jonelis, advocacy manager for the ACLU of South Dakota.

One senator had already changed his mind between Wednesday and Thursday.

On Wednesday, Sen. Casey Crabtree, R-Madison, voted against a measure to send the bill to the 41st day, parlance in Pierre for defeating a measure.

"This topic is very complicated," said Crabtree, in a Thursday morning press conference. "It has a lot of passion on both sides, and I think that continued discussion on that's OK."

Hours later, on Thursday afternoon, Crabtree voted against the smoke-out move.