PIERRE, S.D. -- A legislative committee has passed two controversial bills on university freedom of speech and education on gender in public schools.
The House Education committee on Wednesday, Feb. 6, passed House Bill 1087 by a 9-6 vote, which aims to “promote intellectual diversity” and protect freedom of speech at state universities in South Dakota. The bill comes after a similar effort made last legislative session, which ultimately failed but prompted a freedom of speech policy change by the state Board of Regents.
Proponents of the bill say that the board’s current policy doesn’t do enough to protect on-campus freedom of speech. Opponents retort that the board’s new policy hasn’t been in effect long enough to demonstrate a need for change.
Representatives from the Board of Regents, as well as some of South Dakota’s state colleges, opposed the bill, saying it puts in place unfunded mandates and adds burdens to the universities.
HB 1087 also requires that students pass a United States citizenship test while a student in college, and take six additional course credits in United States government and history to graduate. Opponents said the new requirements put additional academic, time and economic burden on students.
The committee also passed House Bill 1108, which prohibits public schools from offering instruction on gender dysphoria in grades kindergarten through seventh. In its original form, HB 1108 prohibited instruction on gender identity, but was amended to limit the scope to gender dysphoria.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, gender dysphoria “involves a conflict between a person's physical or assigned gender and the gender with which he/she/they identify.”
Supporters of the bill say that it’s not up to schools to educate students on issues of gender identity. Detractors say that the bill is discriminatory against LGBTQ+ students and that it sets a precedent of the legislature stepping into the territory of establishing school curriculum -- a duty typically left to local control.
Both bills now head to the House floor for a vote.