South Dakota governor vetoes transgender restroom bill

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard has vetoed a bill that would have restricted transgender students’ access to restrooms in public schools. Without the veto, South Dakota would have become the first state in the nation to require that transgender students only use school restrooms that correspond to their sex at birth.

The veto came late Thursday afternoon — if Daugaard, a Republican, had taken no action, the bill would have become law at midnight.

In his veto statement, Daugaard contended that the bill “does not address any pressing issue” affecting South Dakota’s students and that access to school restrooms should be decided by the schools themselves. He also noted that the law “would place every school district in the difficult position of following state law while knowing it openly invites federal litigation.” The Obama administration has asserted that the Title IX anti-discrimination law includes protections for transgender youths.

Proponents of the bill said it would protect the privacy and innocence of South Dakota’s youth, while critics — including transgender activists Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox — said it would discriminate against vulnerable adolescents and could lead to bullying and marginalization. The American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota was particularly vocal in its criticism, saying that it would encourage affected students to file federal civil rights complaints.

Though he initially expressed enthusiasm for the bill, Daugaard promised that he would carefully consider the legislation, which was passed by the state Senate on Feb. 17, before making a decision. He met with transgender students and LGBT activists last week to hear their concerns. He said after the meeting that “I have my own set of values and in the end I’ll make my own decisions.”

The Republican-controlled state Legislature could override the governor’s veto with a two-thirds majority vote. The bill enjoyed broad support in the state House of Representatives, where it passed 58-10; it passed the state Senate 20-15. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Fred Deutsch, encouraged lawmakers to concur with the veto, saying, “Further focus on this issue will detract from other significant accomplishments of this Legislature this session.”

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