SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem on Wednesday renewed her push for lawmakers to take up issues she feels were left unsettled during the regular legislative session, including banning transgender girls from girls' sports and medical marijuana.
The Republican governor's office held a conference call Wednesday with legislative leaders to discuss summoning them back to Pierre for a special session, which would also include discussions on how to spend over $1 billion that is flowing into the state from a federal COVID-19 rescue package. She pitched tackling a ban on transgender girls and women from sports leagues that match their gender identity in two bills, addressing collegiate sports and high school sports separately.
However, Republican legislative leaders like Senate Pro Tem Lee Schoenbeck have said they are in no hurry to take up the unsettled issues, pointing out that it is unusual for the Legislature to convene just to revisit topics they already hashed out during the regular session.
Advocates for transgender people have decried any bans as a solution for a problem that doesn't exist. There are currently no transgender girls playing in girls' sports, according to the high school activities association, and only one transgender girl has ever competed in girls' sports. Instead, advocates say the efforts are a political ploy that hurts transgender people.
As the session ended last month, key Republican lawmakers were left sparring with Noem, resulting in the demise of two high-profile bills. One bill would have banned transgender girls and women from participating in sports leagues that align with their gender identity; while the other would have delayed a voter-passed law to legalize medical marijuana.
Facing criticism from social conservatives for scuttling the transgender sports bill, Noem has placed some responsibility for a special session to revive the topic on one of the top Republicans in the House.
"I can call a session, but it's really up to the Speaker of the House, Spencer Gosch, if he thinks it's important enough to have a discussion or if they would like to ... move forward and keep the executive orders in place," the governor said in an interview with Dakota Radio Group this week.
Gosch refuted the notion that the special session is up to him, pointing out that the governor's role is to issue the proclamation and determine the scope for a special legislative session.
He said there were some "easy fixes" that could be possible to the medical marijuana law. The governor has proposed setting a limit on the number of cannabis plants allowed in medical users' homes, prohibiting patients under 21 from smoking marijuana and clarifying the Department of Health's authority to track marijuana before it is sold.
But it is not clear whether the Legislature and governor can reach an agreement on the transgender sports issue. Noem issued a partial veto against the bill to limit the ban to elementary and high school sports, which resulted in its failure on the final day of the regular legislative session. She quickly issued orders for public schools in the state to bar transgender girls from playing in girls' sports leagues, describing the orders as "temporary" until she called a special session in May or June.
However, critics of Noem's orders have said they don't carry the force of law and amount to little more than a recommendation. Indeed, school boards and administrators have shied away from Noem's order, indicating they will stick with the high school sports activities association's current policy of evaluating applications from transgender athletes on a case-by-case basis, at least until the issue comes to some resolution in the Legislature.