March 31, 2021

Protecting Girls: On a Need to Noem Basis

Reporters on both sides were taken aback by the governor’s decision.

It’s been a long 10 days for the people of South Dakota, who just watched everything that their legislature worked for vanish with one wave of the governor’s hand. “It’s maddening. It’s frustrating,” one statehouse member said about watching Kristi Noem (R) destroy their months of progress on girls’ sports. Despite a week and a half of outcry from her constituents, Noem dug in and did not, as some people hoped, reconsider.

Reporters on both sides were taken aback by the governor’s decision, warning that her failure to “read the political room” could have consequences for years to come. Even the Washington Post couldn’t help but be surprised that Noem would turn her back on such a core constituency — especially on an issue that enjoys near-consensus support. She made herself a “national icon” for bucking the COVID norms, the Post’s Henry Olsen writes. But this “backtracking” on a bill that was an easy lift for a state like South Dakota may have just “torpedoed her standing” with the party’s core. “Noem’s meteoric national rise has spawned much doubt about whether she has the chops to navigate the difficult issues… How she recovers from this unnecessary self-inflicted wound will determine if the doubters are right.”

In Pierre, where the betrayal hits hardest, leaders like House Speaker Spencer Gosch (R) could only shake his head at how carefully the governor tried to spin her decision. “Her letter back to the House said, ‘I have not vetoed the bill,’ but her actions said otherwise.” Regardless of the smoke and mirrors, the legislature set to work, desperately trying to find the votes for a veto override. “We strongly debated the bill,” state Rep. Rhonda Milstead (R) explained shortly afterward on “Washington Watch.” “We had good testimony on the bill, but we fell two votes short,” she said soberly. “We had 52 votes in February. Now we have 45… And the unfortunate thing is: there’s nothing about that bill that’s [changed].” What’s changed, she said, is that Republicans “were lobbied very hard by the governor to oppose the bill. And that’s the disappointing part. You know, when you keep hearing this message [from her] that, ‘I’m all for fairness in sports,’ why would you fight it?”

To actual South Dakotans, Rhonda said, the people on the street, it’s incredible to them that we even have to debate this issue. But it’s probably even more stunning that they’ve had to fight their own Republican leader to do it! Over the past week, Rhonda pointed out, it was Noem who opposed their effort the loudest. “Some legislators were getting three and four calls [from her] not to go along with this.” Instead of listening to the dozens of organizations who supported it and could defend it, the governor apparently listened to those groups, like the Chamber, who didn’t. When push came to shove, it was their threats the governor caved to. “We let these people dictate to us what our values should be,” she argued. And that’s wrong. “South Dakota is a state that has integrity. People are moving here because of our integrity, and I think we’ve let them down.”

In Arkansas, where state leaders just saw their girls’ sports bill become law, they watched Noem botch South Dakota’s legislation with displeasure. “I think it was a bad decision,” State Sen. Missy Irvin (R-Ark.) said. She should have “worked [alongside] our legislature,” Missy argued, and supported the effort. “There’s huge, broad support for this legislation… And the people of Arkansas are willing to go to battle for their voices and for what they stand for. And that’s what we should be doing in America. We cannot roll over and just let people threaten us to be silent — threaten us to not stand up for what we believe, and threaten us to not take a stand for something that we all know is the right, common-sense policy…”

In the meantime, Noem will try to hide behind her pair of executive orders on girls’ sports — which, like her Title IX coalition, seem to be more about appearances than substance. She offered them after the veto in hopes of tamping down another round of criticism — but the orders, like her substitute for HB 1217 are JV material and fall far short of the protections women need. They don’t have a cause of actions for students to sue, don’t have a provision barring action against the schools, and only require an affidavit from schools — not a yearly certification. She says it’s her attempt at “protecting fairness” until another bill is introduced.

As for the determined South Dakota legislature, it was a valiant effort that deserved better. “I think we’ll have to wait until next year to introduce something again,” Rhonda said. “But we’ll start working on it and hope that our governor will not be an absent executive and participate in the process with us — instead of waiting until the last week [to stop it].”

Originally published here.

Arkansas: Better SAFE Than Sorry

Arkansas may have lost its bid for a national championship this week, but conservatives around the country are cheering on the state to become the first in another category: protecting minor children. Monday, after an emotional debate, the state senate voted 27-8 to send the Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act to the governor’s desk, where he could make history signing it into law.

If you asked most of these legislators, like state Rep. Robin Lundstrom (R), they didn’t set out to be trailblazers. They just wanted to spare kids a lifetime of regret. If our children can’t smoke, they can’t drink, they can’t do drugs, or get tattoos, it only makes sense to her — and to the majority of Arkansas leaders — that we also keep them from mutilating and sterilizing their bodies. “This is a very tightly crafted bill that basically says that children under the age of 18 cannot have sex-change surgery or chemical castration,” she said on “Washington Watch.” Let them get to the age “where they can make adult decisions,” she insisted, but until then, the community has to step in and stop them from making a tremendous mistake.

During Monday’s vote, her colleague, state Sen. Alan Clark (R) warned that a lot of these treatments “are at best experimental and at worst a serious threat to a child’s welfare.” This bill would protect children, who, as many experts point out, eventually grow out of the confusion that these hormones and surgery lock them into. “I know that their parents are looking for any kind of answer, and my heart truly goes out to them,” he said. “But this is certainly not the answer.”

As Robin said, we can and should have compassion, but “this is about protecting minors. And many of you, I would hazard to guess, did things under 18 that you probably shouldn’t have done… Why would we ever consider allowing a sex change for a minor?” It’s amazing to me, Senator Jason Rapert (R) chimed in that “people get up here and expound on the 14th amendment when it happens to be the same individuals who come up here and tell us that a baby’s life is not worth saving. But they will get up here and try to make us feel guilty, for simply stating the obvious and stating what science knows… We ought to vote for this bill and show that somebody still knows common sense.”

Democrats tried to explain that children would suffer without access to this radical treatment. But what about the adults who are suffering now because they did transition, Clark asked? He told the story of girls like Keira Bell, who were affirmed all along the way that their decision was the right one. “I should have been challenged on the proposals or the claims that I was making for myself,” Keira has said. If she could have talked to 16-year-old self, “I might not necessarily listen at that time. And that’s the point,” she explains of her lawsuit against the gender clinic and other pushback efforts like this one. “When you are that young, you don’t really want to listen. So I think it’s up to these institutions [and leaders] to step in and make children reconsider what they’re saying, because it’s a life-altering path.”

“If you want to talk about anecdotal stories,” Clark argued, “Those kids matter too. It’s easy to just say, ‘Oh, I care. I care.’ But caring… sometimes means saying, ‘I love you, but this is not the right thing for minors.’” “Those kids are precious,” Robin agreed. “Some of them may choose to be transgender when they’re older… That’s their choice. But when they’re under 18, they need to grow up first. That’s a big decision, there’s no going back.”

In the end, their colleagues agreed, making a very convincing case (a 97-30 combined vote) for Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) to consider as he weighs his decision. Let’s hope he believes, as we do, that gender transition isn’t health care. And the government shouldn’t force taxpayers to fund it or insurers to cover it — especially where children are concerned. If you live in Arkansas, email or call Governor Hutchinson at (501) 682-2345 and ask him to sign the SAFE Act into law.

Originally published here.

This is a publication of the Family Research Council. Mr. Perkins is president of FRC.

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